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Telemedicine ‘Potentially Unsafe’?

There was a news article which came out over the weekend which described the results of a systematic review by members of the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of General Practitioners in the United Kingdom.

I tried looking on both the RCP and the RCGP’s web sites, but couldn’t find a link to whatever the news article was talking about, so I couldn’t look at the article itself to come to some sort of opinion about the study.

However, from reading the article, it appears that at least one of the findings was that dermatologists were “uncomfortable with the use of telemedicine and not confident in GP’s ability to use it safely,” even though it sounds like the patients liked it.

I hope the actual review has some real data, not just anecdotes.

For a long time, I’ve noticed that there is a great deal of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) in some writing about telemedicine. I guess this is a response to some of the over the top optimism that I’ve seen in some quarters.

I’m looking forward to this review. As far as I can tell, there really isn’t much in the way of negative findings in telemedicine. It seems to work pretty much everywhere it’s been tried for patients, as far as I can see.

The main stream of negative criticism of telemedicine seems to be FUD, not science, as far as I can see, but I’m now starting to look for real documented failures.

Personally, I would find that one peer reviewed study of telemedicine that found it was not working for patients would be a lot more persuasive than oracular pronouncements from learned institutions.

I don’t find “dermatologists have doubts” very persuasive if the patients like it and the quality of care isn’t suffering. Last time I checked, doctors were supposed to be getting patients better, not making themselves happy….

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{ 2 } Comments

  1. Mark Goldenson | May 27, 2010 at 2:01 am | Permalink

    Hi Dr. Barta, about the only negative finding I have seen in some telemedicine studies is lower cost efficiencies than expected. I think this is often because the telemed technology implemented in those studies is expensive – tens to hundreds of thousands spent on high-end videoconferencing equipment, mobile carts, home monitoring devices, and so on. I would be surprised if studies did not find cost reduction when using a secure PC- and software-based setup.

  2. Brian McKinstry | May 29, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    I think we do need to do a bit more research in this area. The biggest challenge is not so much collecting data from people but having a reliable infrastructure to observe, analyse and act on it. This is what often is hardest to set up. I agree that a lot of telehealthcare equipment is overpriced and over the top in functionality. Telehealthcare really does seem to work in heart failure and it is looking promising in other fields, but it is not a panacea. One think is pretty certain though…patients really like it whether it helps them or not!