Are online doctors the future of medicine? Let's hope not.
Online companies with names like "MDLiveCare" and "RingADoc" are diagnosing and treating "common conditions" over the phone or on the internet. The traditional doctor-patient relationship flies out the window with these internet entrepreneurs. The online doctors speak to patients on the phone or chat online as part of their services for fees ranging from $25 to $40 and they sell their services as a quick and easy access to a doctor without the hassles and delays of an emergency room visit.
Here's the problem with online doctors: such "online entrepreneurs" make assessents of patients without actually seeing the patient, or via webcams. This is dangerous. Physicians should never treat patients who they have never actually seen.
How is the online practice of medicine dangerous? Let's go to an example: Mr. Jones is a psychiatric patient with a history of bipolar disorder for which he takes a medication, lithium, which is designed to treat the condition. Instead of going to his physician's office when he needs to renew his prescription, Mr. Jones calls MDLiveCare for his renewal of lithium and a physician or nurse practitioner issues a new script for lithium sight unseen.
Everything's fine? Wrong. One of the harmful side effects of lithium is that it can be toxic to the liver and for that reason, Mr. Jones's blood levels must be carefully monitored while he is taking lithium. If MDLiveCare issues a new script for Mr. Jones without first checking his blood levels, there may be permanent damage to his liver caused by the lithium. How would a doctor at MDLiveCare know about Mr. Jones's blood levels simply by speaking to him in a chat room on the internet? The online entrepreneur would be clueless and Mr. Jones will pay the price.
No one monitors the quality of care of online doctors. Most state medical boards permit doctors to diagnose and treat only those patients whom they've actually seen AT LEAST ONCE. Is that really asking too much? I think not.
The lesson for today: a good ole' fashion house call from a family physician is worth a lot more than the medical care provided by online doctors. You will get what you pay for and in this case, the price is your heath.