Is a Virtual doctor the future of Medicine?

Currently, technology and the internet are a patient’s first line of defense when it comes to illness and getting help for themselves.  The amount of information that is available on the internet is so vast that a patient is able to access so much more information than possible by simply visiting the doctor.  Virtual doctor apps are popping up all over the place, bridging the gap in patient care – but is this necessarily a good thing?   The one thing that is ultimately lacking, is the human component in these programs.

Programs, like virtual doctor apps, lack the ability to read body language, and non-verbal cues which can create misunderstanding of patient needs and wants. At some future point however, a virtual physician assistant will be able to take note of tone of voice and facial expression like a real doctor would to assess medical condition and distress.  This means the more you consult your virtual doctor, the better they will be able to understand you.  Like a real physician, a virtual doctor will be able to share this info with your regular health care providers.

Both patients and physicians need to be wary of overuse of tools like this because there is always the chance of misinformation or divergence from face-to-face contact which is often necessary in medicine.  Apps that arise should be used as an aid, because the truth is, interacting with a real live professional can never be replaced.

When should you use a virtual doctor?

If a practice, or hospital chooses to employ a virtual doctor app to help elevate patient care then there should be rules as to when and when not to use this service. In many ways, having this go between can be beneficial for both doctors and patients. For example, one great use would be after a patient has seen a doctor and received treatment.  An app can be used to monitor the patient through their recovery.  It can help patients who need 24 hour care, as any changes in health can be monitored in real time while avoiding live-in aids or unnecessary hospital visits.

Similarly, minor skin conditions, cuts bruises and symptoms can be assessed remotely, and a patient can then see if a trip to the hospital/doctor is required or not.  So as you can see, a virtual doctor could be used to triage patients.  Having such a convenient, on demand service, can answer questions faster, especially for patients who are anxious and prepare them for upcoming doctors’ visits.

When shouldn’t you use a virtual doctor?

It seems intuitive, but for any event or condition that would require immediate attention – you should not use a virtual doctor or app.  This means crisis situations like major falls, concussions, breaks, sprains, burns, serious bleeding or pain.  These should be evaluated by a physician immediately.  Similarly, if someone is experiencing a major allergic reaction, symptoms or a heart attack, stroke, or a rapid decline in health – it is important to seek a real doctor’s attention.

The following events should be brought to the attention of a physician:

·       Any event that may signal poisoning

    • Persistent diarrhea or vomiting
    • Ingestion of toxic substance
    • Poisoning from controlled substance (alcohol, illegal drugs, pharmaceuticals)
  • Choking, drowning, smoke inhalation (carbon monoxide/fire)