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Virtual visits to doctors help cut costs
Wednesday, October 30 2002
by John Cradden

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An independent study in the US has shown that on-line consultations with a doctor can be just as effective as visiting a doctor in person.

The idea of using e-mail technology as a substitute for in-person visits to your GP has been frowned upon by many in the medical establishment.

But according to Forrester Research, a new trial of a technology used for Web-based clinical consultations, led by Professor Laurence Baker of Stanford University, found that the system could reduce costs of patient care and satisfy patients. Doctors also found the system suitable, as long as they were paid.

Baker found that cost savings of up to USD1 per member per month were achieved by use of the system, which was provided by RelayHealth. As well as reducing visits to the GP, the technology also cut costs for accident and emergency and other outpatient visits.

Nearly 80 percent of the patients surveyed said that the service was good to excellent compared with a phone call or an office visit.

Overall, 63 percent of doctors surveyed said they were satisfied with the system and 56 percent said that they preferred an e-visit over an office visit for problems that were not urgent.

The trial involved 360 doctors and more than 3,600 patients in a treatment group, with a similar number in a conventional treatment group.

Fergal Bowers, editor of IrishHealth.com, said the research represents the forefront of an emerging method of delivering health services.

"Increasingly we're going to see live consultations and even remote surgery taking place using new technology," Bowers said. "You can even monitor people's condition remotely with new technologies. You can't totally replace the doctor/patient relationship, but more consultation is going to occur using the Web and e-mail."

Forrester Research now believes that the case for encouraging more e-visits to the doctor is compelling.

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