The online doctor and the power of letting a patient do the talking

Would you use an online doctor? Any change from a long-held habit or way of doing something can be a bit daunting. Most of us are used to the idea of sitting face to face with a doctor in their office, and we fully expect a degree of prodding and poking! Understandably, some people might be concerned that an online doctor’s inability to examine a patient will mean the consultation is not “complete”.


However, believe it or not, the standard wisdom passed down in medical school states that 80% of diagnoses can be reached by history alone. That is to say, if the doctor gives a patient enough time and space to describe their problem, and then asks the relevant questions, the diagnosis can be made in around 80% of cases. The rest of the time, the patient will require the physical examination and perhaps some further tests to get to the answer.

One difficulty (and this has been well researched), is that hurried medical staff doesn’t always devote enough time to history-taking. And depending on which study you look at, the average time before a doctor interrupts a patient is somewhere between 12 and 23 seconds after they start to speak! Hardly enough time for a person to freely tell their story! A key part of GP training is mastering the art of a good consultation- and most GPS will agree that if they sit back and let the patient state their case without interruption, the diagnosis will often present itself.

So what’s my point? Well, obviously, a good history can be taken in person or online. So, the diagnosis should be clear in a majority of cases. In the case of an online doctor, the next step might include advice regarding treatment, a prescription, or a medical certificate. If the diagnosis is not certain, the next step might be to go to a GP in person for a physical examination and investigation. In the coming years, as remote diagnostic technology becomes more commonplace – think medical “Fitbit’s” that can detect vital signs and changes in body chemistry- a lot of the traditional physical examination will be possible without attending the doctor’s office at all.

While many aspects of our daily activities are already managed online, healthcare has probably lagged a little behind – perhaps because it’s such a personal and physical thing. It may take people time to fully adapt to the fact that a lot of what doctors do can actually be done remotely. And if an online doctor communicates well, there is no reason why the online experience cannot be as good, if not better than the clinic experience , from the patient’s point of view. In so many ways, it all comes back to the art of being a good listener, and simple power of letting a person tell their story.


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