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"The virtual visit is a fundamental alteration to the patient-physician encounter"

In a recent “A Piece of My Mind” article published on the JAMA Network’s COVID-19 Resource Center, Dr. Marcin Chwistek gave his thoughts on the qualitative differences between in-person care and digital healthcare delivery. He raises a central theme that although clinicians and patients quickly transitioned to the use of these remote services, neither group were prepared for it.

Telehealth services offer the clear and obvious advantage of creating quick access points for patients and allowing continuity of care. Additionally, and especially during an audio-video session, the clinician gets a glimpse at how their patients truly live, in their home environment. Whether it’s a pet jumping into the video or the worn down furniture the patient may be sitting on, there is something to be learned.

Dr. Chwistek goes on to explain that although technology and protocols will improve to make these virtual visits feel more like in-person visits, we are not there yet. One thing missing from these visits is the normal routine of an in-person visit. For better or worse, signing in at reception, getting vital signs, and sitting in the waiting room is an ordered routine with many different 1:1 personal interactions.

For some clinicians and patients, the virtual visit seems “barren” and without the feeling that comes from personal contact. The technology is not yet good enough and during a typical clinic there are dropped calls or weak wifi signals. Despite all the uncertainty, Dr. Chwistek claims that one thing is clear, “the virtual visit is a fundamental alteration to the patient-physician encounter."

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