Telemedicine is on the rise across the country as more hospitals adopt virtual visits, where patients communicate with their doctors through the computer instead of a hospital room. It’s an easy alternative than bringing more patients into a hospital, where they may be exposed to Covid-19.

However, there are drawbacks to moving general visits online instead of in-person examinations. The major hurdles of online visits usually stem from misdiagnosis and potential mistreatments for some patients.

Why is misdiagnosis such an issue?

One of the largest concerns surrounding virtual visits among patients and doctors is the potential for misdiagnosis. Developing a diagnosis is already tricky during a general examination, but it’s much more challenging over the computer.

Dr. Paul Hyman, an author of an essay in JAMA Internal Medicine, recently discussed with NPR the risks of seeing patients through a computer monitor. Some issues are inherently harder to comprehend over a virtual appointment than others.

“We don’t really completely understand sometimes what we’re missing because we haven’t really done medicine this way,” Hyman told NPR.

He worked through an example of a patient whose heart is not working as well, and that’s causing fluid buildup in their body. Hyman explained there are specific challenges about making the diagnosis over the video or a phone. There would be benefits to touching the patient, listening to their heart, legs, looking at their blood pressure and looking at the veins in their neck to make a concrete diagnosis.

There are also benefits where Hyman claims he has been more cautious about questioning and analyzing the environment a patient is in – believing it provides more details to an overall story.

However, patients still have to describe and communicate effectively their symptoms. And without the proper touch or investigation, many doctors may continue to mistreat their online patients across Kentucky.