There is no denying that many Americans are living in tough economic times. In response, many people have turned to working multiple jobs resulting in busy schedules and an increased demand for speed and convenience.
From fast foods to smart kitchens and smartphones, technology has revolutionized the processes and activities of the day to day lives of people not only in the nation but all other parts of the world as well.
People demand speed and convenience from every single aspect of their life, and the field of health and medicine is not spared either. More and more people are turning a blind eye to the traditional physical office visit to see a doctor and instead are going to a virtual online doctor consult.
The popularity of online medical consultation is further enhanced by the increased spread and affordability of the internet as well as the increased popularity of internet related technology such as smartphones, laptops, tablets and personal computers among others.
There are two sides to a coin which means that there are certain pros and cons of people using the internet and its related technologies in the consultation of experts and doctors in the medical field. Understanding the two sides of medical consultation via the internet is important for people who need to decide whether or not to adopt the practice.
(Source: Medi Angels)
Advantages of Online Medical Consultation
1. Convenience, Time Saving and Elimination of Time Limitations
It is often said that time is money. This is especially true in this era of hard economic times. In fact, according to one Cisco global survey, more than 70% of patients prefer easy access to healthcare services over physical visits to the doctor. This makes the convenience and time-saving factor one of the biggest advantages of online medical consultations. Several things facilitate this;
. First and foremost, patients do not have to wait in long queues for their turn to consult the doctor. With online medical consultation, all one has to do is log into the website of the service provider, provide the required information and get connected to a doctor.
. Secondly, thanks to the internet and the increased popularity of smartphones and devices such as laptops and tablets, it is possible for people to consult doctors and experts online immediately the need for it arises. Simply put, consultations are available on demand.
This also means that patients do not have to leave their chores or even the comfort of their homes or offices to consult a doctor.
Apart from those above, it is also possible for patients to seek and access online medical consultation services 24 hours a day throughout the seven days of the week.
The fact that the patient’s medical history, medical reports, and records are stored online also makes it more convenient for the patient to access the information in future whenever the need arises.
Additionally, online consultation services also make it easier for people with complex needs to “attend” doctor appointments and consultation sessions. Even the elderly can benefit from these online services.
2. The Internet Eliminates Location Boundaries
Many experts agree that the internet has helped to make the world a smaller place; a global village. This rings true even when it comes to medical consultations. Indeed, it is possible for a patient in the United States to get access to a doctor or medical expert from any state in the nation or even from a foreign country if one wishes to do so.
In addition to that, it is possible to access online medical consultations from anywhere, as long as there is an internet connection. It does not matter whether one is out fishing in the sea or whether one is on vacation. This feature is especially beneficial to people who live in relatively remote areas where traveling to see a doctor is considered strenuous and inconvenient.
3. It is Relatively More Cost Effective
Online medical consultations are more cost-effective than the conventional physical visits to the doctor. Like mentioned earlier, time is money, and when one saves time, then he or she also saves money. Secondly, patients have access to the service and care that they can afford. For example, some online medical consultation services charge between $40 and $50 per consultation while others charge as little as $10.
There are even free consultations on the internet meaning that there is something for everyone regardless of financial position. In contrast, physical visits to the doctor cost more due to the cost of traveling as well as the relatively high cost of consultation (up to $150 per consultation on average). This is especially beneficial for people who do not have insurance. The low cost of online medical consultations appeals strongly to many patients.
Given the cost-saving benefits of online medical consultation, it comes as no surprise that health insurers are increasingly offering online services and even telemedicine services with the main purpose of cutting down on healthcare costs.
4. It is Much Better than Self-Diagnosis
One of the things that the internet has done is to make it easier for people to self-diagnose themselves. Indeed, for many people, it is a common practice to simply Google the symptoms one is experiencing and browsing through the various diagnoses and suggested treatments in a bid to find the most fitting.
According to many experts, this method of trial and error is quite risky and could easily turn against the patient especially in the case of complex or even recurrent medical conditions.
With online medical consultation, it is possible to consult medical experts and doctors and subsequently get an accurate diagnosis. However, many experts are also quick to point out that online medical consultation should not replace physical visits to the doctor especially if it involves a serious condition.
5. Access to a Huge Pool of Medical Experts, Doctors and Service Providers
One of the best things about the internet is that It provides access to a global pool of doctors and medical experts. This means that it is possible for patients seeking consultation services to choose from and even get the opinion of several doctors and medical experts at the same time and with a simple click or tap of the finger.
Many of the websites that provide these consultation services have built a reputation for verifying the credentials of medical experts and doctors on their websites. This goes a long way in ensuring that patients get access to quality and genuine medical advice and information on their medical conditions.
6. Online Services are Improving
These days, online medical consultation is not just about chatting with medical experts and doctors on the internet. The field of online consultation is rapidly changing and improving.
Today, for example, it is possible to have video consultation between care providers and patients.
In fact, according to an IHS survey, the total number of video consultations is projected to reach 5.4 million by the year 2020. In addition to that, the growing popularity of virtual reality is also spreading into the healthcare field, and subsequently, more service providers are venturing into the provision of virtual reality-based consultation services.
Developments such as these are expected to enhance the convenience of online medical consultation even further and more importantly, drive down the cost of consultation even further.
7. Improved Quality of Patient Care and Improved Outcomes
A growing body of research is suggesting a possible link between online consultation and improved preventative care as well as improved patient care outcomes. Some studies have demonstrated a relationship between online consultation and lower incidences of depression, anxiety and even stress among patients.
In addition to that, many experts recognize the fact that online medical consultations lead to fewer hospital admissions; something that implies that patients benefit from improved health.
8. Improved Privacy and Confidentiality
There are two angles from which one can look at this. Firstly, many people with sensitive medical questions and conditions often find it difficult to talk openly and freely to a doctor or medical expert in physical consultations.
Online consultation allows individuals who are concerned with their privacy to consult doctors without having to meet them physically. This can make it easier for a patient to open up.
The other angle from which to look at this advantage is when it comes to the privacy and security of the patient’s personal information. However, the truth is that the nation has made numerous leaps and advancements in keeping the medical records and personal information of patients safe and secure. Indeed, this is a major marketing point for many of the genuine online medical consultation service providers.
Disadvantages of online Medical Consultation
Despite the numerous benefits of online consultation, the practice also has its shortcomings and challenges.
1. Privacy and Confidentiality
Despite having made progress in enhancing the privacy and confidentiality of patient information and data, there are still many challenges and potential risks to the security of patient data and information.
With the increased number of scammers, spammers, hackers and other cybercriminals on the internet, cybersecurity is emerging as a major challenge for many service providers. As a reminder, even big companies such as Google and Facebook can fall victim to privacy violations and security breaches.
2. The Risk of Miscommunication
Online medical consultation is heavily reliant on the quality of interaction between the patient and the medical expert/doctor. The patient gives details of the symptoms he/she is experiencing, and the expert gives a response based on the information received from the patient. However, it is not uncommon for patients to miss symptoms, ignore symptoms or even give the wrong information on symptoms.
After all, many patients are not even aware of all the symptoms that they may have. Once a miscommunication occurs, it is quite easy for the expert to mislead the patient when it comes to treatments and solutions for the identified problem. The virtual doctor needs to ask the right questions and the patient needs to be honest and forthcoming with all information.
For this reason, many experts advise patients to seek a physical diagnosis and then use the virtual doctor as a second opinion. Or use online doctors for minor illnesses, the common sinus infections, flu, etc. Driving to your family doctor is often not possible on weekends or after hours.
3. Limited Applicability
Although the internet is a major part of the modern day to day lives of human beings, it is not always applicable. For example, online medical consultation is not ideal for use in complex emergency situations such as when one is involved in an accident or is a victim of burns and wounds. In such situations, a physical visit to the doctor/physician is the best option.
4. Leaves Room for Drug Abuse and Unethical Practices
Another con of online medical consultations is the fact that it leaves room for the unethical sale and purchase of prescription drugs. This means that drug abusers could easily take advantage of the industry to illegally and unethically obtain medication for intoxication purposes.
The fact that it is easy to sell and purchase fake and cheap prescription drugs on the internet also poses a risk to the safety of patients.
5. It is Difficult to Evaluate the Quality of Care Provided
On the one hand, online consultation is a gateway to numerous experts and doctors from all across the nation and the world. On the contrary, however, it is often difficult for patients to ascertain the credentials and qualifications of doctors serving them online.
Many a time, patients may not even have any past information on the record of doctors. Sometimes even the evidence that the individual providing the service is a doctor is often missing. This means that online consultation takes a lot of trust and faith; something that can work for the patient.
As evidenced, online medical consultation has its advantages and disadvantages. It is also quite evident that the advantages of online consultation outweigh the disadvantages of online consultation. Nonetheless, the most important thing to remember is that patients must never take online consultations as perfect substitutes to physical consultation.
Factors to Consider when Choosing an Online Health Consultation Service Provider
To get the best out of the online consultation, patients must consider several factors when choosing service providers. Firstly, it is fundamental for the patient to do a stringent background check on the credibility and trustworthiness of the website providing the service.
One of the best ways to do this is to look for referrals and reviews of the websites. Aside from that, one should also consider factors such as;
. The length of time the website has provided online consultation services
. Whether or not the website is affiliated with a renowned healthcare organization or hospital
. The security and confidentiality that the website provides to the patient and his/her data