For many years, pathologists have lamented that they are afforded few opportunities to interact directly with patients, serving rather as consultants to clinicians. I think that the opportunity has now arrived for them to do so using hospital telemedicine platforms. A couple of days ago I blogged about how the Cleveland Clinic was extending its telemedicine system called MyCare Online to link all hospital physicians to their patents as well as to Ohio residents (see: Cleveland Clinic Launches Web Site to Offer Physician Visits to Ohio Residents). Video visits by physicians with patients, of course, have been available for many years but not on a broad basis. Telemedicine in the past has found the most success serving patients in rural areas or those who were not readily accessible such as those in penal systems. Telemedicine is now commonly referred to as mobile health or m-health.
I think that this Cleveland Clinic announcement represents a significant turning point in telemedicine because it is being offered by a prestigious hospital on large scale to support patients visits. In my opinion, the rationale for the wide-scale adoption of this technology is obvious. Patient services can be delivered efficiently without the need for expensive physical facilities. The process is certainly more convenient for patients who do not need to travel to the hospital. They can chat with their physicians sitting at home and using their smart phones. By embracing this service on a broad basis, the Cleveland Clinic must now address factors such as how to increase physician comfort with the technology as well as potential physician resistance. Patient interest in m-health will undoubtedly grow.
To restate the obvious, MyCare Online as well as other systems that may be launched by other hospitals now provide the opportunity for pathologists to consult directly with patients who will seek such interactions. The most obvious set of patients will be those with complex diseases such as cancer. Pathologists could review with patients the gross and microscopic images of their lesions and discuss the cellular characteristics of malignant disease as well as lab test interpretation. A similar case can be made for radiologists. Given that this would be a new opportunity for patients, there also needs to be a marketing effort on the part of the hospital to familiarize patients with the opportunity. Only a a small of them would be probably interested but those who want to schedule such diagnostic consultations would greatly benefit from them.