Rhonda Patt

Virtual doctor visits carry risks

By Rhonda Patt

Consumers are attracted to virtual doctor visits because of convenience and price; however, quality of care is sometimes sacrificed.
Consumers are attracted to virtual doctor visits because of convenience and price; however, quality of care is sometimes sacrificed. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Q. My child was recently diagnosed with strep throat through a “virtual visit,” where I video-conferenced with a health care provider who then prescribed antibiotics based on my description of my child’s throat. I was uneasy after the visit and decided to take my child to the pediatrician’s office the next day before starting the antibiotic. After a strep test I found out she did not actually have strep throat. Now, I am questioning whether virtual visits are really safe for kids.

A. Virtual health care is a new area for medicine and clearly has its pitfalls. Consumers are attracted to virtual visits because of convenience and price; however, quality of care is sometimes sacrificed.

The business of health care dictates that virtual visits are inevitable to compete in the current market. As a parent, however, it is important to know the limitations.

Virtual health care may be useful for some specific situations, such as triaging a patient similar to what phone triage nurses do. By teleconferencing with a patient, a medical provider may be able to give advice.

On the other hand, if it’s determined that a child is sick enough to need antibiotics, then a true physical exam should be given to determine the actual cause and best treatment. In many of these cases, lab testing is also warranted.

As a parent, it is important to know that not all antibiotics are created equally, and antibiotics are dosed differently depending on the illness. As a pediatrician, I can say the skill and art of the physical exam is something we perfect through years of training and practice and cannot be replaced by a smartphone.

Rhonda Patt is a pediatrician with Charlotte Pediatric Clinic. Email living@charlotteobserver.com; put “pediatrician” in the subject line.

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