Managers at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire believe that the use of the Skype online video calling service could potentially reduce outpatient appointments by up to 35%. Obviously limitations will exist as to the type of consultation that would be suitable for an at-distance appointment, and consultants will have to recognize those situations where a face-to-face assessment of the patient is vital.
Many factors need to be considered when contemplating the use of any new technology for the provision of healthcare - there are always positive and negative aspects. Skype consultations would also bring with it risks as well as advantages for both the patient and doctor involved.
Should allow greater numbers of patients to be seen per day.
Patients will benefit by not having to take time off from work to attend a consultation in person.
Will reduce waiting times and also the demand for hospital parking spaces.
Should considerably reduce numbers of outpatient visits per year.
Not all patients will have access to Skype or be comfortable using new technology.
Greater consideration must be given to maintaining a secure network and patient data privacy.
The medical-legal aspects of Skype consultations need to be fully defined to protect both the patient and consultant.
One thing is certain – the use of telecommunication and information technology for the provision of healthcare at distance (Telemedicine) is likely to grow hugely over the coming decades. It has enormous potential for improving access to medical services and specialist opinion, particularly in deprived or remote communities or in developing countries, such as those in some regions of Africa. As such, Telemedicine should be embraced by medical and technology communities willing to invest money and ideas, and facilitated through open-minded governmental policies designed to encourage any measures leading to improvements in the health and well-being of its peoples.