Can we be serious about telehealth?

If you follow the hype around telehealth, you would think it will save healthcare. Telehealth does have a future as PART of healthcare, but it won’t replace the benefit of seeing a patient in person and being able to diagnose a health problem.

There it is again. According to Healthcare Transformers, “use of telehealth climbed more than 154% in late March 2020, compared with the year before, and a 2020 survey found 76% of patients would be interested in using it. Experts say at least 25% of all outpatient, preventive, long-term care and well-being services could be provided via telehealth by 2040.”

These raw statistics are very misleading. To understand telehealth, we first must understand what patients are using it for and under what conditions HCPs feel comfortable using it as opposed to an office visit.

Telehealth can be advantageous to patients who need an Rx refill or are following up on a treatment option, but it has been my experience that most doctors are still very cautious about its use.

TermLife 2 go surveyed 500 people to find out if they’ve ever lied to their doctors, and 23% said they have. Here are some of the white lies, stretched truths, and complete fictions they admit to telling:

  • 46% lied about smoking habits.
  • 43% lied about exercise (or lack thereof).
  • 38% lied about drinking habits.
  • 29% lied about their sexual partners.

Why do patients lie? Some 75% of respondents cited embarrassment as the reason. Another 31% said they lie to avoid discrimination, and 22% said they lie because they don’t think their doctor will take them seriously if they tell the truth. Those that lied to avoid discrimination were overwhelmingly female (80% female, 20% male). Will telehealth alleviate that?

According to the National Library of Medicine, “clinical observation and inspection are fundamental to the practice of medicine. They are central aspects of the physical examination, leading to accurate diagnoses and treatment. The terms observation and inspection are often used interchangeably. However, inspection refers to what we can observe visually on the body’s surface. In contrast, observation is a broader term that refers to the careful use of our senses to gain physical and behavioral information.

I understand that younger demographics, who grew up doing everything online, may see telehealth as a great time saver, but physicians are trained to ask patients questions based on what they hear and what they see.

For example, UW researchers Catherine Wetmore ( and Ali Mokdad of the UW Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation) indicate that Americans did a poor job estimating their weight change over a year. When an online HCP asks patients about their weight should they accept that they may be underestimating their weight?

If a patient comes into a physician’s office complaining about frequent urination and constant tiredness, won’t that doctor consider diabetes if the patient is overweight?

When I hurt my head after a minor bike crash, my physician would not allow me to use telehealth; she said I want to see you in person to check some things. However, she checked up on me a week later via a telehealth visit. It has its place but let’s not act like it will save healthcare.