Technology has taken over the world. Almost everything we do is automated, and a world free of digital devices is impossible to imagine. In line with these developments, the healthcare industry has also picked up the pace and telemedicine technology is being used by professionals and patients worldwide.
According to a Zion-Market-Research conducted in 2017, the telehealth market was valued at about $18 billion and is expected to reach $34 billion by 2022.
The technology is set to transform the future of health because it doesn’t just help patients refer to their doctors when they are away, but also assists them in making decisions. Telehealth is revolutionizing the patient-doctor relationship and changing how consultations are carried out. One crucial part of telemedicine that hasn’t been looked into is how it influences patient decisions.
This blog aims to discuss the role of telemedicine in patient decisions and evaluate the advancements in technology.
Role of Patients in Treatment Decisions
When information wasn’t available and people didn’t know much about diseases and treatment, the doctor was the only one responsible for the decision making. Patients depended on the knowledge and skill of physicians to tell them about what they should and shouldn’t do. Though certified doctors still know what is best for their patients, people have the option of choosing whether to go with one treatment plan or the other. For example, surgery was the only option for cancer-ridden patients some time ago. But now a woman with breast cancer can select between lumpectomy with radiotherapy or a mastectomy.
The choice the patient makes will depend on their preference and the implications of each treatment. According to literature, even after so much information, less than 50% patients are involved in clinical decision making and leave it to their physicians to decide.
While there are several reasons this may happen such as autonomy, type of disease, severity, and self-efficacy, telemedicine helps patients greatly with deciding the course of action.
Yesterday’s physicians played a dominant role in the clinical decision-making process and handled everything from diagnosis to treatment and follow-ups. However, because of the advancement in technology, medicine, and practice, doctors have a wide variety of treatment options.
Also, patients are more aware of the tradeoffs and think they should be consulted because it is them who will live with the consequences. Terms such as patient-centered care, partnership, patient participation and shared decision making are used interchangeably, and this proves that patient involvement is something which is encouraged.
In layman terms, patient involvement is when both the patient and doctor contribute to decision making and where the physician is not the only one who can tell the patient about what he should do. Instead, today’s doctor acts as an informant and guide to the patient because he tells them about the best treatment options available based on his knowledge.
Several studies have shown that patient involvement positively influences health outcomes for various diseases and that it is much beneficial to both the patient and doctor.
One study showed that mental health treatments were more useful when the patients were involved in decisions related to their treatment. However, some of the reasons patients may not be taking their own decisions are because of lack of education and technological means.
Telemedicine bridges the gap between access to technology and healthcare, so it becomes easier for patients to make informed decisions.
Role of Telemedicine
One way in which telemedicine helps patients in making decisions is by giving them easy access to information. With patient decision aids and other such tools, people can find help and knowledge about their treatment options in details. In fact, you won’t just be able to find articles and blogs written by medical experts but can also get information about other patients who have faced the same challenges and the options which worked for them.
Most medical practitioners are now digital telehealth platform into their practice as it gives patients the opportunity to discuss their condition, its implications and treatment plans without having to visit the healthcare facility. Instead of spending hours in the hospital waiting for a doctor’s second opinion, you can go for a video call and get the best feedback possible.
Limitations of Telemedicine in Patient Decision Making
Telemedicine helps in bridging the distance between patient and doctor and facilitates in decision making and communication. However, it is also associated with a few limitations or constraints. Because video conversations mask the body’s identity markers, it is often challenging for physicians to judge the body language and reactions of patients.
One study conducted in 2015 showed that patients make riskier decisions in conferencing as compared to when they are face to face with the physician. This is why it is imperative that technology and advancements in telemedicine focus on imitating face-to-face interactions so decision making can be done efficiently. Telemedicine platforms need to be developed as close to face-to-face clinical visits so they can look as natural as possible.