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Would you be willing to see your doctor through a computer screen?

Sep 1, 2015

Dr. Juan Manuel Romero consulting with a patient 400 miles away.
Credit flickr user Intel Free Press / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Telemedicine is the practice of treating patients remotely through telecommunication and information technology.

It’s on the rise in Michigan, especially in rural areas where they don’t have enough doctors, physician assistants, or nurses.

Nancy Derringer looked at telemedicine in her story for Bridge Magazine.

According to Derringer, this technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we receive medical attention, especially for people who live in rural areas and may not have ready access to a doctor or other medical professional.

“They may live several hours away. They shouldn’t have to drive that far for a 15-minute visit,” she says.

Dr. Jed Magen is an osteopathic psychiatrist who teaches at Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, and he tells us that there are a few reasons medical professionals don’t tend to set up shop in rural areas.

For one, he says that there’s just more for medical professionals to do in the city.

“Rural areas are just not intrinsically as interesting, there are many more things to do in a city. From that standpoint, people are much more attracted to larger metropolitan areas,” Magen says.

Magen also tells us that working in a rural area where there are few doctors can lead to a sense of professional isolation and being overworked.

“You can get overwhelmed very quickly, and so there’s no relief, there’s no backup,” he says.

Derringer tells us that telemedicine can be great for monitoring chronic conditions, saving both the patient and their doctor time while freeing up space in hospitals for patients with conditions that require more urgent and active attention.

Practicing telemedicine requires a fairly robust Internet connection, which can also be a problem for those living in rural areas. But Derringer tells us that some medical facilities are making moves to remedy that problem, too.

“Northern Michigan hospitals are building facilities that have those super high-capacity Internet pipes so that they can have these glitch-free consults,” she says.

So instead of having to drive hours away to meet with a certain specialist, patients could only need to drive to the nearest hospital or medical clinic to consult the same expert through the facility’s dedicated telecommunication equipment.

There is some concern surrounding whether this technology can play nice with HIPAA laws, according to Derringer, which clinics and hospitals also hope to remedy by providing these facilities.

“Hospitals are very concerned that these links be secure,” Derringer says. “So you may even have high-speed Internet in your home … but they’re going to want you to go to a clinic.

“So it’s not exactly like texting your doctor, but it is closer,” she says.

Magen tells us that he was interested and enthusiastic when he first heard about telecommunication, a sentiment shared by many of his colleagues, and it’s a similar story for his patients.

“You would think that people would be somewhat resistant, would have questions and so on,” he says. “But our experience is we have almost 100% acceptance,” even among those who normally don’t have much experience with electronic media.

Magen sees telemedicine as a means to improve access to proper medical consultation, making it more convenient for both medical professionals and their patients.

“I think it makes so much sense that the only way it’s going to go is to become more and more prevalent. It’s really probably one of the few ways we can increase access,” he tells us.

– Ryan Grimes, Stateside