Telemedicine: connecting doctors to cancer patients
Twice a week, Suzi Kochar, MD, gets up early to see patients with thyroid cancer at our hospital near Chicago. But Dr. Cougar is a time zone endocrinologist at our hospital near Phoenix. Don’t get on a plane and fly 1,800 miles into the Midwest. Dr. Cougar is still in Arizona and sees patients via video conferencing, a rapidly growing practice called telemedicine. “It’s the future of medicine, I think,” he says. Patients go to Dr. Cougar to a private room equipped with HD video equipment. A nurse is there to make sure that the device is working and that the patient is sitting in the right place. When Dr. Cougar turns on her laptop, she communicates with her patient immediately.
Increasing telemedicine programs
Various surveys show that patients are becoming more comfortable with a virtual visit to the doctor, and health care providers are expanding telemedicine programs to keep up with demand. “Telemedicine is not a remote possibility; it is here and on the line now,” said a 2014 report on a survey of healthcare executives. According to the report, 90 percent of healthcare leaders say their organizations have or are creating telemedicine programs. A 2013 Cisco Systems study found that 70 percent of patients feel comfortable communicating with physicians via text, email or video messages. According to a report by analytics firm HIS Technology, the number of patients using telemedicine services is expected to rise to 7 million in 2018, up from 350,000 in 2013.
Telemedicine does not only benefit patients in the United States or other first world countries. It is also used to provide medical care to remote parts of the world affected by extreme poverty, ravaged by war, or otherwise without access to doctors. Doctors in the UK are providing virtual visits to patients in remote Zambian villages, where there is a dearth of health workers. American doctors consult with their counterparts in field hospitals in Syria to treat victims of that country’s civil war. Here at home, telemedicine gives patients instant access to more doctors in multiple specialties. Enables healthcare providers to reach more patients. And in many cases, it is more convenient. “It increases patient access to providers without the hassle of traveling or possibly waiting too long for an appointment,” says Dr. Kuchar.
Midwest patients can see a variety of doctors and clinicians, such as an oncologist and/or surgical oncologist, for their cancer treatment. Dr. Cougar may consult with a patient about upcoming thyroid surgery that doctors will perform in the Midwest. Patients can also visit Dr. Cougar after surgery to discuss treatment options, such as thyroid hormone replacement. Despite the growing acceptance of telemedicine, Dr. Cougar says some patients may be wary of seeing a doctor who is in a room hundreds of miles away. She says that anxiety often fades quickly. “During the first visit, they will feel a little intimidated because they are in a video conference,” says Dr. Cougar. “But once we start talking, they feel more comfortable. I took a long time during the interview and by the end of the visit, they are fine.”
Know the difference between genetics and genomics.