My USA Today column: Seeing a doctor online may not be what’s best

Thinking of seeing a new doctor online for your runny nose or cough?  It may be convenient for patients, and cheaper for health plans, but it may not be what’s best.  Online visits for acute illness increase the rate of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions, and can miss important diagnoses.

I write about it in my latest USA Today column, The doctor will see you now — on the Internet:

Accurate diagnoses can be missed without the face-to-face interaction. For example, I’ve seen a patient convinced he had a sinus infection only to find that he had a tumor inside his nose. Another complained of minor ear pain, but after examining her, I saw that an infection had spread to the point she needed to be hospitalized for intravenous antibiotics.

Without the ability to examine patients, many doctors play it safe and prescribe drugs. A recent study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that patients who were treated through virtual visits had higher antibiotic prescription rates for their sinus infections than patients who were seen in the office.

Enjoy the piece.

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