Physician Lifestyle

Do You Skype?

February 11, 2011


Technology’s role and how it intersects with the physician/patient relationship is one of the most interesting and quickly changing facets of healthcare. I recently read an article from My Health News Daily regarding physicians’ use of Skype, to consult with patients. The article provides insight as to how it can be used to supplement face-to-face care. While each circumstance is unique, it allows the physician an opportunity to practice regular check-ins/updates where the situation might not allow, such as inclement weather.  Here are a couple of key takeaways from the article:

Advantages of Skype Consultations

Convenience: Webcam-based consultation allows the patient to quickly check-in with a physician and go over follow-up information. Additionally, it might allow more flexibility in schedule for both patient and physician.

Germ-Free: With an increasing sensitivity to germ-free environments among the general population, webcam-based consultation allows patients to avoid the clinic and keep their germs at home. Further, a parent can avoid bringing a child into an environment where he/she would be exposed to potential sickness.

Expansive Patient Network: When the distance between a physician and a patient is significant, a quick consultation might determine if a particular treatment or procedure is even feasible. This may save the patient out-of-pocket travel money or may result in further assessment in person. The ability to reach an audience beyond the immediate geographic area can benefit a small private practice.

Disadvantages of Skype Consultations

Lack of Face-to-Face Meeting: Many conditions require careful and constant monitoring to document symptoms, condition and follow-up care. The patient can be more carefully monitored in-person where the physician is able to physically interact with the patient. Developing a comfortable relationship with the patient is important for long-term care.

Impersonal: Many patients are often afraid to ask questions that will help them better understand their condition and what treatment is available. Human interaction in an office is more likely to foster this back-and-forth communication between the physician and patient.

Alternative Uses: Peer-to-Peer Communication

Video chat offers potential that can significantly impact peer-to-peer communication. It may offer the opportunity to further discuss a patient’s condition, the exchange of details regarding a particular treatment or procedure or even the ability to interact/train a student, resident or peer when a visual component is a necessary part of the discussion. This was not available years ago and now offers the opportunity to convert a high-level message into a very detailed communication.

What To Be Aware Of

As technology involves in the healthcare environment, new privacy and security measures will likely be examined and modified to ensure the sanctity of the physician/patient relationship. As the article points out, the use of Skype or other video chat currently requires:

  • All communication must adhere to the privacy and encryption standards set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
  • The practicing physician must be licensed in state working from and the state the patient resides in if there is regular interaction and treatment.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Isn’t amazing to think that as little as five years ago, this topic wouldn’t even have been an issue? More so, think back 75 years; even a patient office visit was very rare. It was the home visit from the family doctor.

This topic provides evidence that the healthcare industry continues to evolve as technology becomes more widespread for professional (and personal) use. Technology can benefit our personal lives and your practices as physicians, but Skype and other web-video-based tools will never replace the office visit. Too many people value face-to-face interaction.

Just a few questions that are running through my head—I’d love to get your thoughts:

  • Do you see the prevalence of such tools increasing in your practice? If you’re not doing so already, do you envision leveraging these tools with your patients?
  • What is the impact on your time given that these tools would always force you to be available?
  • Do these consultations occur at the detriment to the time and attention you give your in-person patients or practice itself?


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