Virtual visits or the interaction between a doctor and patient using videoconferencing has been found to be as effective as face-to-face visits, according to a recent study.
"There is growing evidence that the use of videoconferencing in the medical environment is useful for a variety of acute and chronic issues. Videoconferencing between a provider and patients allows for the evaluation of many issues that may not require an office visit and can be achieved in a shorter time," says Dr. Ronald F. Dixon, an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital and the study's senior author.
In America, telemedicine projects are being examined to evaluate their capacity to improve patient access to care and lower healthcare costs.
During the current study, the researchers randomised patients to one of two arms.
In the first arm, the patients completed a visit-either virtual or face-to-face-with a physician, and later completed a second visit via the other modality with another physician.
In the second arm of the study, the subjects had both visits face-to-face with two different physicians.
All of the doctors and patients involved completed evaluation questionnaires after each visit.
The researchers observed that the patients found virtual visits similar to face-to-face meetings on most measures, including time spent with the physician, ease of interaction and personal aspects of the interaction.
The doctors in the study were also found to score virtual visits similar to face-to-face visits on measures like history taking and medication dispensing.
Though the physicians appeared less satisfied on measures of clinical skill and overall satisfaction, the ratings they gave to virtual visits were still in the good to excellent range.
The diagnostic agreement between physicians was 84 percent between face-to-face and virtual visits; it was 80 percent between the two face-to-face visits.
"The tradition of medicine is to lay hands on the patients, which has always been considered paramount to patient care in the minds of physicians. However, these findings suggest that virtual visits could be a viable option in circumstances where patients need to be monitored routinely for chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, obesity or depression, and where self-management strategies are not working. Virtual visits may also be effective for triage of acute, non-urgent issues like back pain or respiratory infections," says Dixon.
Based on their observations, the researchers came to the conclusion that both patients and physicians could benefit if virtual visits were used as an alternative method of accessing primary care.
The study has been reported in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare.