Digital communications have opened the door to innovative advances in medical treatment. Telemedicine refers to systems that let healthcare professionals and patients interact remotely, which can save time and expense compared with having to travel to a doctor’s office or clinical setting. As reported here, the AMA has issued guidelines for such services, yet many legal and regulatory obstacles still remain.
Fortunately, research into the effectiveness of telehealth practices continues to provide useful insights. A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry explored the use of telecommunications for psychotherapy. Doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina and the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, SC, randomly divided a group of 241 depressed elderly veterans. One group received psychotherapy in a doctor’s office, while the other group conducted their therapy sessions using in-home video conferencing.
After a year, the researchers found “no statistically significant difference” in the results between the two groups. They looked at patient satisfaction and treatment credibility. The conclusion drawn from the data is that telemedicine had no adverse impact on the treatment results, and thus it provides a viable alternative to traditional same-room treatment sessions. We can hope that additional studies will show that telemedicine is an effective choice for other types of treatment and patient-physician interaction, so that the laws and regulations can be changed to encourage its broader use.