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12 June 2017

Video chats with your doctor becoming a reality

Many people don't have easy access to medical care, so 'telemedicine' has stepped in to help fill the gap.

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In the US, telemedicine – the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients –  is playing an ever-expanding role in the healthcare landscape.

According to a Health24 article, telemedicine – the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients – has obvious benefits for a country like South Africa, where resources (both human and infrastructural) are hard-pressed. The implementation of this innovation is however a challenge as "uptake of technology on the ground is very low". 

Among the reasons: a growing national shortage of doctors, both primary care and, in certain areas, specialists. And one-quarter of the population lives in rural areas without easy access to care.

So, telemedicine has stepped in to help fill the gap. In fact, more than 10 million Americans now use it every year.

Real-time technology

Telemedicine, or telehealth, are terms for virtual office visits – video chats made through your smartphone, tablet or computer, sometimes with no waiting at all. You can see and speak with a doctor using real-time audio and video technology. Services can vary from getting a diagnosis and a prescription for minor medical issues, to ongoing monitoring of chronic conditions – especially helpful to older adults.

Some health insurance providers now offer telehealth as part of some of their plans. It's usually for a fee that's lower than a co-pay (a payment by an insured person each time a medical service is accessed) or, if you have a high deductible, less than you'd pay out of pocket for an office visit.

A study published in the journal Health Affairs found that the most common virtual visits were for acute respiratory problems, urinary tract infections and skin complaints. Telemedicine can be very helpful with dermatology problems because this specialty has a shortage of doctors.

Telemedicine for mental healthcare is also growing. It helps people stick with their treatment plan and removes the potential stigma of going to a mental health clinic – and it can be as effective as face-to-face appointments, studies have shown.

Samuel Waumsley, a clinical psychologist from Cape Town, South Africa, is the founder of a website which offers various online therapy programmes. He says that sessions are 50 minutes and follow the same course as a regular therapy conversation in a psychologist’s office.

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