This is the question posed by Cisco, whose recently-published report reveals that patients are becoming increasingly familiar with telemedicine and the related tools and are now demanding more healthcare services on a remote basis.

Do Patients Prefer Telemedicine to Face-to-Face Contact with Practitioners?

It is clear that telemedicine is still a long way from replacing face-to-face medical consultations. But any discussion of their respective merits is really a non-debate, because the whole idea is that the two approaches will complement and support each other. However, if telehealth services are going to make real headway, they will have to offer their users an experience that is closer to the real thing, rather than something mechanical. In addition, they need to provide useful services which improve the patient’s relationship with his/her own health and with health-care workers. So, is telemedicine on the right track? According to Cisco, the California-based systems and network equipment supplier, which has just published a report* on the subject, an approach to healthcare provision which combines human expertise and technological precision is becoming increasingly popular. Patients now seem more comfortable about consulting healthcare staff remotely and about using online services. More than three quarters (76%) of North American patients surveyed even said they preferred using a telehealth service. These patients have generally started to use online tools both for general communication and for medical consultations with their doctors.

Patients would like to see telehealth services advance…

Fully 70% of the patients surveyed said they were comfortable with the idea of communicating with their doctors by SMS, email and video instead of seeing them in person. As regards the means of communication they use, 19% prefer a video consultation, 20% an online discussion via instant messaging, and 21% an email exchange, while 23% would prefer to use voice telephony and 20% SMS. Overall, the Internet has certainly made its mark on healthcare. Close to one patient in three (30%) goes online, via a PC or mobile device, before going to see their doctor. These e-patients would also like to have access to a greater number of services that they could use on their mobiles. The service that most patient respondents cited was an alert system to remind them of medical appointments and when it is time to take medication.

…but are still reluctant to share personal data online

Some 63% of patients are at ease with having their medical records stored in the cloud. However, 39% do not trust websites to store their personal data securely. Some 25% of the patients polled were prepared to post online information on their sports activities, 28% were comfortable divulging their weight and 20% would reveal details of their dietary habits, but many are much more sensitive about other specifics. For example only 15% would agree to divulge data on their blood pressure or heart rate. When seeking medical information, 71% of patients still favour their own doctor’s advice, while a quarter look to family and friends. As regards medical information available online, 23% of those surveyed make use of various websites or go to Facebook. This figure rises to 35% when blogs are also included in the calculation.

*Global Customer Experience Report Focused on Health Care; survey conducted in early 2013 among 1,547 consumers and health care decision makers across ten countries

By Pauline Trassard