A Virtual Physical

James Hamblin makes the case for telemedicine:

If some basic needs were addressed remotely, doctors could focus on more dire cases during their busy office hours. Patients could ask simple questions without needing to take an afternoon off work for an office visit. As of last year, only 12 percent of Americans had ever texted or e-mailed with a doctor, according to a survey conducted for The Atlantic. But about a third of people under 30 were open to having their primary communication with their doctors be online. …

Under the current model, doctors don’t see patients on an ongoing basis. As a result, a patient is inevitably getting advice from a doctor who, because she hasn’t seen what he looks like when he’s not sick, can’t tell whether he really “looks sick”—a gut valuation that remains crucial to effective primary care.

Yet, with the American Association of Medical Colleges projecting a national shortage of more than 90,000 doctors by 2020—especially in rural areas—there simply may not be enough doctors to provide this kind of ongoing care. Telemedicine could play a crucial role in addressing basic needs, particularly in settings where long-term relationships don’t come into play, like emergency rooms. Already, to take one example, a company called Avera Health makes physicians in cities available via video to hospitals in small towns, where they are remotely helping to staff emergency rooms overnight. (They work in concert with people who are on-site. So, for instance, a nurse might perform hands-on work at the direction of an onscreen doctor until a local doctor can arrive.)

Previous Dish on telemedicine, as applied to abortion, here. Update from a reader:

Haven’t we had telemedicine for like a decade now?

Heh. Another reader:

Personal anecdote: the Fortune 100 company I work for rolled out a telemedicine option (“free for 2014!”), so I tried it for a persistent cough I’ve had this week. The doctor told me that in most states you’re required by law to have a webcam, so the doctor can see you and look down your throat, I guess. After hearing my symptoms, she wrote a prescription to my local pharmacy for a strong cough suppressant. Pretty handy, huh?

I decided to get a second opinion. After being told to wear a mask in the office, the Nurse Practitioner did a nose swab (just as much fun as it sounds), diagnosed me with Influenza B, and signed me up for Tamiflu

I have an 18-month-old daughter. I’m sure telemedicine will have it’s place, but I’m gonna stick with the clinic for now.