April 22, 2013

Parkinson's Patients with Home Computers Get Virtual Video Visits from their Neurologist

Dr. Ray Dorsey, director for the Johns Hopkins Movement Disorders Center, thinks video-chats with patients may well represent an important part of our healthcare future.

No, he isn’t suggesting that patients scrap the long tradition of visiting doctors in their offices. In so many cases, there’s nothing as effective as those face-to-face encounters, during which healthcare professionals can conduct hands-on examinations, make diagnoses, and suggest remedies.

Two years ago, Dorsey showed that he – a specialist in neurology -- could offer Parkinson’s patients good care via inexpensive videoconferencing between his office and his patients’ nursing home. The patients who participated said their video-chats with Dorsey were “better” than their in-the-flesh office visits with non-specialists.

Next, in a seven-month experiment reported last month in JAMA Neurology, Dorsey tried virtual housecalls. Ten Parkinson’s patients used their own home computers to teleconference with specialists. Another ten Parkinson’s patients made actual – traditional – trips to a specialist’s office for care. Not surprisingly, here’s what happened:

  • Patients who made the actual trips to a specialist’s office needed 4.25 hours; the video patients needed 53 minutes. 
  • Video patients found the experience more convenient and comfortable. 
  • Video patients paid about $85 per visit; patients who travelled to an office paid about $137 per visit (61% more). 
  • Video patients reported several negatives: less personal contact, incomplete information, and technical issues. 
  • At the experiment’s conclusion, all video patients wanted to keep the virtual visits going. Among the office visitors, 83% wanted to give teleconferencing a try. 
Dorsey knows Parkinson’s patients fare much better – and are 20% less likely to die – when they see neurologists who are trained to treat our difficult disease. The problem, he says, is that 40% of all Parkinson’s patients on Medicare never have the chance to see a specialist.

To keep the momentum going, Dr. Dorsey is offering free, one-time video consultations, during which he might discuss diagnoses, physical therapy, tests, and the patients’ prospects. He is licensed to practice in California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, and NewYork, so prospective video patients must reside in one of those states. If you live outside the United States, you ARE eligible to participate.

Interested? The toll-free number is 855-237-7447. Dorsey’s office will set up the visit for the Parkinson’s patient and family for free.

Said Dorsey:
Now we're saying, “remove distance, remove disability, remove the distribution of doctors." Patients will come into an era where anyone, anywhere, can get the care they need. 
I’m excited about the remarkable healthcare possibilities of our new communications technology, but not surprised. I witnessed my housemate Nimesh court Bhawana – now his wife – via Skype when she was getting her MBA at a college in India. These days, I see the two of them – from the comfort of our home here in Washington, DC – talk in real-time using simple video software with relatives in China, Australia, and Nepal.

Why shouldn’t the healthcare arena capitalize and keep pace?

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For more info about virtual house calls, check this link from the Johns Hopkins Medicine e-newsletter.

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