Telemedicine is something I’ve touched on numerous times over the past few years, and there are a growing number of examples of its benefits, both in terms of the cost and availability of care, but also the quality.
The latest comes from a study conducted by the University of Rochester into the use of telemedicine to care for people with Parkinson’s.
“Virtual house calls for chronic diseases like Parkinson’s are not only as effective as in-person care but broader adoption of this technology has the potential to expand access to patient-centered care,” the authors say.
Quality of care
It’s estimated that around 40% of those with Parkinson’s fail to see a neurologist soon enough after their diagnosis, which puts them at a greater risk of falls, which in turns often results in hip fractures and further complications. This is especially problematic in remote or rural areas that are underserved by healthcare providers.
These challenges grow exponentially as people age, and with demographic changes in societies across the Western world, it’s projected that the number of people with Parkinson’s will double by 2030.
Often the biggest barriers to the right care are distance and mobility. Many Parkinson’s specialists are located in large urban medical centers, whereas many patients live further out in suburban or rural areas. With mobility issues common, and therefore driving not always possible, the challenge of getting patient and medical professional together is significant, especially as the condition advances.
The study saw a few hundred Parkinson’s patients receive care from neurologists via a telemedicine platform. The participants were split between those who received visits as they would normally from their primary care physician, versus those who had this supplemented by four consultations via video conference.
The team believe that caring for Parkinson’s is ideally suited to telemedicine because the condition is a very visual one, and so the medical staff can conduct thorough examinations even without having any tactile interactions with the patient. Observations and conversation can do a very adequate job instead.
When the patients were analyzed, it emerged that the telemedicine consultations were just as effective as the physical, in-person consultations. What’s more, the virtual consultations also saved considerable amounts of time, with the average patient reporting savings of 169 minutes and nearly 100 miles of travel per visit saved by doing it remotely.
Suffice to say, this isn’t the first study to highlight similar benefits, and the authors highlight that the main barrier to adoption remains policy based. Many Parkinson’s patients in the US are on Medicare, which currently doesn’t reimburse for in-home telemedicine consultations, although this is slowly being changed.
“We can shop, bank, make travel reservations, take classes, and buy groceries via the internet from the comfort of our own homes, but too many patients still cannot access health care,” the team say. “Telemedicine is an option if you are a veteran, a member of the Armed Services, a Medicaid beneficiary, or a Canadian, but not if you have a chronic condition and are a Medicare beneficiary.”