May 28, 2002 -- Primary care doctors consulting with medical specialists via closed-circuit TV -- it's called telemedicine, and it's brought high-tech urban medicine to many rural areas. A new study shows that patients are very satisfied with the medical care they receive through telemedicine.
This is the largest study yet looking at the effectiveness of virtual outreach medicine, as it's come to be known, writes Paul Wallace, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London. His report appears in the latest issue of the journal the Lancet.
His study involved more than 2,000 men and women living in London and Shrewsbury, a smaller, semirural community outside London. Half the patients were randomly assigned to be treated using telemedicine -- the virtual outreach group. The rest were referred to see specialists in their offices -- the standard procedure group.
Among the data: 52% of patients in the virtual outreach group were offered follow-up appointments with the specialists, compared with 41% of the standard group.
However, overall there were "significantly fewer" tests and investigations per patient in the virtual outreach group, reports Wallace. This suggests that virtual outreach enabled the clinicians to be more efficient, probably by avoiding duplication.
"Patient satisfaction was greater after a virtual outreach consultation than after a standard outpatient consultation," he writes.
Patients liked the convenience of the consultation, says Wallace. They also felt more comfortable having their primary care doctor with them during their consultation with the specialist.