Could you use an app instead of going to the doctor?

The rise of telemedicine and its dangers

You may have seen adverts for it, or perhaps you’ve even had a consultation with a telemedicine doctor yourself. Telemedicine is the increasingly popular use of technology to provide clinical healthcare from a distance. It was originally created as a way of delivering medical care to patients in remote areas without easy access to health facilities. These days, companies such as MDLive and Lemonaid Health offer consultations with medical professionals via apps.

The popularity of telemedicine is on the rise, mainly because it’s so convenient. It eliminates time spent in the waiting room and allows people to book appointments at short notice, ideal for conditions that are minor but still require urgent care. However, there are many downsides to telemedicine, and these are becoming increasingly apparent as it is more widely used.

The main disadvantage is the over-prescription of antibiotics. A study showed that children were more likely to be prescribed antibiotics during a consultation with a telemedicine doctor than when seeing a doctor face-to-face. This is almost entirely due to the fact that (obviously) many things are impossible during a telemedicine consultation, such as a physical exam, which means that often telemedicine doctors are not able to make a clear diagnosis, and so often end up prescribing antibiotics as a precaution.

This is problematic firstly because antibiotics are often not needed. This means a patient may have to pay extra and suffer side effects for no reason. On a wider scale, the overuse of antibiotics is causing a rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria (superbugs) which can cause life-threatening infections that we are powerless to treat.

Diagnosis in telemedicine is also made harder by the fact there is generally no relationship between the patient and the doctor and that means it is harder for the doctor to adjust their diagnosis based on subjective factors, for example the patient’s pain tolerance.

So, although telemedicine sounds great in theory and can sometimes be an excellent solution to the problem of busy doctor’s offices and long waiting lists, it is not suitable for all situations and we should bear in mind that a consultation with a telemedicine doctor is unlikely to be as accurate as one face-to-face.

Ruby V