Is telemedicine leading to misdiagnosed patients?

The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for patients to see a doctor in person. But even before the pandemic, advocates celebrated telemedicine as a viable alternative to a doctor’s office visit. The telemedicine visits replace wellness visits or routine insurance requirements for a policy.

Some concerned doctors are pointing out that a physician’s ability to diagnose accurately is lost when strictly using a screen to communicate with patients. This disconnect between physician and patient prompted Dr. Paul Hyman to publish an essay in JAMA Internal Medicine, where he reflects on what’s missing when only using a screen.

“I think there’s something therapeutic about seeing a physician and having them lay their hands on you, and my sense from the feedback I’ve gotten from the article already is that a lot of people agree that it’s therapeutic in its own right — and that can be lost without the physical exam,” Hyman told NPR.

Of course, emergencies are still emergencies. This means that seriously ill or injured people should not rely on telemedicine unless there is no other option. They should call 911 if they feel chest pain, have difficulty breathing or have other serious medical issues. If the medical problem is a high fever (or something else) that is urgent but not an emergency, they should call the primary care provider to see what they recommend.

Patients can help themselves

Individuals can get the most accurate diagnosis if they prepare for their telemedicine visit:

  • Make a list: If the matter is urgent, make a list of the most important or pressing concerns first. If it is a well visit, it is also useful to make a list of two or three areas of worry.
  • Keep track of symptoms: Try to give accurate details about when symptoms started and whether they have changed.
  • Take pictures: Use a phone to document any apparent symptoms, such as rashes, bites, moles, or other skin problems.
  • Handle routine details ahead of time: This includes medication refills, notes from doctors required by work and any necessary online paperwork.
  • Be ready to talk: Do the meeting somewhere that is quiet and has a good connection. Also, be prepared if the doctor is scheduled to call.
  • Use tech and equipment: It helps to have any prescribed gear on hand. A thermometer or other diagnostic tool can also be useful.

Malpractice may be an issue

Telemedicine is undoubtedly here to stay. While using the above tips will be helpful, the doctor or medical professional will not always be able to provide an accurate diagnosis. If this leads to more extensive or more grave medical concerns, it would be wise to contact a personal injury attorney specializing in medical malpractice. They have the experience and knowledge to hold care providers accountable for misdiagnosis or causing other more serious medical issues.