Virtual Doctors Rise Up
On September 12th, I wrote an article about Doctors Making House Calls, an innovative way doctors can provide a more personalized touch. Though it’s often a little more expensive than a traditional doctor’s visit, it can be ideal for patients who can’t get to their doctor. But what about a virtual doctor?
I saw an 18 September news report about another innovative concept… a virtual doctor. In a 21st century world, anything virtual makes sense, and assuredly the way of the future. We’ll probably be seeing many more virtual things. That’s how technology works. The report I saw indicated a variety of virtual doctor specialties, including pediatricians, family medicine, ER doctors, and urgent care. I suspect more are out there too. Doctors can even prescribe new medications or renew already prescribed medications and they can probably make referrals for specialized care virtually.
When it comes to doctors and the large number of hypochondriacs, “visiting” patients virtually is a great time saver for those occasions in which the patient isn’t really sick. Hypochondria is classified as a mental disorder and not a physical one. The American Psychiatric Association (APA), in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5) – the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States – defines hypochondria as a preoccupation with the belief that one has an illness, based on a misinterpretation of bodily symptoms. DSM-5 categorizes it as an illness anxiety disorder. To qualify for this disorder, the perceived illness must cause severe distress to a person’s life and last for at least a period of six months.
Doctors waste countless hours attempting to diagnose patients who are not always physically ill. With their overbearing patient caseloads and the arduous amounts of federal and state reports doctors must file, the extra burden of hypochondriacs exacerbates a doctor’s time management. The APA and the World Health Organization estimate there are approximately 225 million known hypochondriacs worldwide. Add to that the number of people not yet diagnosed, it is easy to see how much of a doctor’s time is spent attempting to diagnose and treat a physical condition what might not possibly be physical. A virtual doctor is one answer.
But you know what? Anything good is also filled with drawbacks too. What happens if a patient has an unknown condition? New diseases and medical conditions are discovered all the time. I wouldn’t want something to be brushed aside by a doctor thinking something isn’t a physical illness when it could be a disease that doesn’t yet have a name . That’s what happened to Dorothy in Golden Girls, Season 5, Episode 1 & 2. She had chronic fatigue syndrome before it was widely known. Her doctors just told her she was getting old. I can see doctors also thinking a patient is a hypochondriac if they do not know anything about the symptoms the patient is presenting. Early treatment is always key and a delay in diagnosis and treatment could further impair a patient’s health.
But in all, I think a virtual doctor is a good idea and offers greater good than harm. I’d like to see more of this. If all I need are some antibiotics that my doctor can prescribe from a five minute online consultation, that would save both of us lots of time. I’m all for it.