TeleHealth bust or the future?

  • 82 percent of U.S. consumers do not use telehealth.
  • In 2016, researchers posing as patients turned to 16 different telemedicine apps to diagnose skin issues. The results? Some of the online doctors misdiagnosed conditions like syphilis, others prescribed unnecessary meds, and two of the sites used doctors who aren’t licensed to practice in the state the patient was located.
  • Even in the digital age, a lot of people simply want to see their doctor in person. They’re not Luddites. But sick, vulnerable people often need in-person reassurance from another human being in the room. A smartphone app simply won’t cut it.
  • Still telehealth is going to find a niche.

Do we really need to go to the doctor to get a prescription when we have the flu?  Wouldn’t telehealth be better in that case?   Interesting question, but is telehealth really a bust as reported on CNBC?  No.

First, what we have to understand is that patients tend to under report symptoms in addition to weight and diet preferences.  It’s therefor up to HCP’s to diagnose the “whole patient” rather than just certain conditions.  However, today most patients are used to going to their doctor to just get an Rx.  Most doctors don’t have the time to really take a deep dive into a patient’s history.

Of course the other issue is reimbursement by insurers for a telehelth consultation.  How much should a doctor be reimbursed and what about the possibility of misdiagnosis?  These are issues that need to be worked out, but you can bet if insurers can save money they will make it happen.

An app can never replace a doctor – at best it can only supplement one

A Harvard Medical School study that reviewed 23 sites, such as WebMD, the Mayo Clinic and DocResponse found that one third listed the correct diagnosis as the first option for patients. Half the sites had the right diagnosis among their top three results, and 58 percent listed it in their top 20 suggestions.

In 2013, there were more than 43,000 health-related applications in the iTunes App Store. More than 16,000 related to patient health and treatment. Since the FDA has only awarded premarket 510(k) clearance to roughly 100 apps or devices, it is clear that some are really missing the mark.

In 2011, pharma giant Pfizer recalled a rheumatology calculator app after the company found that its swollen-joint measurements—calculated using self-reported data—were off by as much as half. Even most simple pedometer apps don’t count your steps correctly, a 2012 study found.

Most health apps, though, are classified as “informational” or “entertainment” to escape FDA oversight . But their marketing talk can send confusing signals.  For now, it’s consumer beware.

Telehealth is coming, but to call it a bust doesn’t take into account its growing pains. Right now it’s a jungle, but the jungle will be cleared by companies willing to learn from their mistakes and stay the course.

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