Fairview doctor visits go digital

Some doctors are consulting home care and hospice patients through video conferencing.

By Kristina Busch
[email protected]

Doctor visits are going digital at Fairview Health Services.

Its video conference program between doctors and patients in home care and hospice started redefining the traditional house call a few months ago. Still, the new service could cause inaccurate diagnoses despite increased efficiency.

So far, Fairview has had video conferences with 13 patients through the program, said University of Minnesota Health Pediatric Advanced Complex Care Team Coordinator Jody Chrastek, who oversees the doctor visits.

Patients use a password-protected website that connects them with a health care provider, she said.

“We have seen this used before in other programs, and many of our younger families are used to using Skype,” Chrastek said.

During the visits, nurses can teach patients how to treat wounds or how to massage muscles in order to alleviate pain, she said. Doctors can also connect with a patient’s family.

“When you see something, rather than just problem solving on the phone, you get a much more efficient and accurate answer,” Chrastek said.

But University biology senior and Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students President Anna Nguyen said the switch from in-person to online consultations could limit the accuracy of care.

“I like to compare online services to texting,” she said. “When you’re texting your boyfriend or mom, you’re not completely sure what they’re saying. You can’t read between the lines or tell the tone of voice they are using, so a lot of miscommunication happens.”

Nguyen worked for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and said the organization uses a similar digital approach to care.

She said video visits can inadequately assess a patient’s condition because a nurse can’t take a patient’s temperature or blood pressure over the Internet.

And because a random doctor is assigned each time, Nguyen said, building a comfortable doctor-patient relationship can be difficult.

“People are also not used to doing care this way,” Chrastek said. “Change takes time. We know that, so our clinicians are learning to provide care in a less traditional way.”

Despite potential roadblocks, Nguyen said video conferences are convenient because patients can avoid long waiting times and get care at any time of the day.

And a video visit could help patients living in rural areas who can’t get to a doctor easily or quickly, she said.

University Laboratory Medicine and Pathology professor Stanley Finkelstein said constantly evolving technology is making it easier for hospitals to collect patient information without direct patient involvement.

He said he expects health care providers to offer video consultations through smartphones in the near future.

“Just about everybody has access to a smartphone, so everybody knows how to use it,” Finkelstein said. “It’s not some new device that you have to learn to use when it becomes applicable to your situation. Instead, the communication channels will already be there.”

Still, Nguyen said technology is limited. For example, she said, video services sometimes quit unexpectedly despite a good Internet connection.

“The bottom line is you should aim to visit a doctor whenever possible,” she said. “But technology is always moving and some people will have very simple medical needs that could easily be fixed with this new system.”