Are doctors ready to accept remote medicine?

The robots are coming.  Or that’s what those who advocate for so-called “telemedicine” predict.

In a recent New York Times column, Pauline Chen discusses the phenomenon of telemedicine, looking at a study of remote monitoring of intensive care patients in addition to usual care. Despite most families feeling that these “extra set of eyes” may improve patient safety, doctors and nurses physically in the ICU were apprehensive.

There was so much resistance, in fact, that the study investigators were not able to draw any general conclusions, as “this lack of acceptance made it difficult for the study investigators to assess the impact of telemedicine on patients who were less sick but who had much to gain.” Findings did show improvement in survival among the sickest patients, but medical staff reluctance made widespread implementation of remote patient monitoring unlikely.

Like everything else in medicine, old habits die hard. Good ideas that break the mold, even in the name of patient safety, take time to become accepted. And that includes remote monitoring of patients.  But Dr. Chen notes that rural parts of the country have trouble finding enough doctors to staff their hospitals. Practicing medicine remotely, or a “virtual visit,” so to speak, may be the only option in these cases.

It would be nice to have more data to assess its feasibility, but for that to happen, more doctors and nurses need to be open to an unconventional idea like this.

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