AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog

Telemedicine as Beneficial as In-Person visits for Parkinson’s Patients

A recent article in Fierce Health Information Technology reports on a study that indicates that Parkinson’s patients who received treatment via telemedicine did not show a decline in quality of life when compared to typical in-clinic patients.  The new research published in JAMA Neurology aims to address the problem of the prevalent burden of neurological disorders paired with limited access to care by testing home telemedicine for patients with Parkinson’s’ disease.

Skeptics have long argued that taking the face time out of the medical care experience between doctor and patient would result in a lesser quality of care being delivered to patients and some physicians remain adamant that healthcare by remote control is no substitute for in-person doctor visits, particularly when a patient needs care for a serious problem.  While there still remains significant and justifiable sentiments among medical professionals that in-person visits with a doctor plays a crucial role in the quality of health care, the evidence is beginning to indicate that the advantages of telemedicine is chipping away at the real impact these in-person visits have on the quality of care.

The study’s authors admitted that a larger trial would be needed to show if clinical benefits of telemedicine are comparable to in-person care.  They also reported that telemedicine patients, on average, were saved roughly 100 miles of travel and 3 hours of time.  Lead author Ray Dorsey, an associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in the announcement. “If this proof-of-concept study is affirmed, the findings open the door to a new era where anyone anywhere can receive the care she or he needs. It appears we can use the same technology Grandma uses to chat with her grandson to provide her with valuable medical care in her home.”

There continues to remain many obstacles in the path of full blown acceptance of telemedicine as a quality health care delivery mechanism, but some long standing negative perceptions are beginning to fade away in response to increased successful utilization of the new technology.  With the promise of new, more accurate, comprehensive and sophisticated medical devices making their way into the market place, many more, well established opponents are sure to be challenged to defend their long standing positions and practices as it relates to delivering health care to their patients.

Evolution / Revolution

After more than two decades in experimental and somewhat limited practice, telemedicine is poised to experience a revolution in use and acceptance by medical care providers and patients alike. The journey since its practical inception has been fraught with challenges, both in the tangible technical arena as well as the human/emotional one, and the pace to this point has been more accurately described as evolution as opposed to revolution.

Significant barriers remain to be removed from the telemedicine pathway to full acceptance as an innovative healthcare delivery model, but many of the once formidable obstacles are rapidly falling by the wayside. Paula Guy, CEO of the Georgia Partnership for Telehealth, says “It’s not about the technology anymore, it’s about applying it… In the next few years, it will no longer be known as telehealth. It’s just going to be the way we do healthcare.” Still, the intangibles are lagging behind in the acceptance curve, the most predominant being the persistent concern for the effects of technology on redefining the doctor-patient relationship.

From the patient standpoint, the level of acceptance is gaining at a quicker pace than that of the doctors and their service provider associates. Greater access to specialized medicine, convenience factors, and the concern for rising healthcare costs have eased the reluctance of patients, who are now accepting lessened one-on-one contact with their care providers, although nobody is predicting this personal interaction will go away for good.

Physician’s reluctance is based in part on a good deal of research that indicates a clinician’s physical presence in the room, along with simple companionate personal consultation, has therapeutic value. There’s also a worry that without face-to-face access to the patient, the physician will miss something important or that over-enthusiasm for telemedicine services will deprive patients of the essential hands-on component of care.

To many, the advantages of telemedicine in terms of bolstering the quality and availability of enhanced medical care must be weighed against the potential harm that could result from patients not having in-person contact with their physicians. The real solution to overcoming this challenge is to discover an optimal intersection of technology and personal, hands on care. It remains just ahead in the evolutionary path of telemedicine, where it can enable a true revolution instead.