Even before the coronavirus pandemic began, a trend was developing pushing routine medical appointments online instead of a traditional in-person examination, fueled, in part, by insurance requirements pushing doctors away from doing routine physicals on healthy patients.
While virtual visits may allow doctors to see more patients and lessen the risks of disease transmission, some doctors say without physical exams, they may miss specific diagnoses and not build healthy relationships with their patients.
Concerns over virtual visits
NPR recently interviewed Maine primary care Dr. Paul Hyman, who published an essay in JAMA Internal Medicine over what is lost when physicians primarily see patents through video screens. His concerns include:
- Missed diagnoses: Hyman says without an in-person examination, heart conditions are challenging to diagnose, such as when fluid builds up in the body due to a poorly-performing heart. He says it often takes touching the patient, listening to their heart and looking at veins in the neck while monitoring their blood pressure. He’s also concerned about diagnosing people suffering from dizziness.
- Losing personal connections: For many people, physically going to a doctor’s office provides comfort to both the patient and the doctor. While an examination should be an objective scientific tool for diagnosing a medical condition, the conversation with a fully-present doctor is vital to understanding what is happening. Virtual visits can be full of distractions for both.
- Being on the same page: Physicians and patients often disagree over treatment. Hyman says a physical exam often provides much-needed data for diagnosing a health condition and reinforcing the health care plan going forward.
Putting the patient first
One of a physician’s most important duties is to act diligently to diagnose a patient’s symptoms, even if they are treating patients virtually. Missed or misdiagnoses may be considered medical negligence in many instances.
Doctors don’t get a “pass” if they fail to order appropriate tests, don’t recognize signs of serious illnesses or not obtain a comprehensive medical history. If you or a loved one are impacted by a delayed or missed diagnosis, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney.