TELEMEDICINE—DOCTORS TALKING TO patients or other doctors via video—may yet find a place as a tool in mainstream health care. Physicians are already finding important uses for it. But it has one critical limitation: contact. “You can’t feel a joint and see whether it’s warm and lax,” says Thomas Nesbitt, a physician and a founder of the telemedicine program at UC Davis. “But we’re less reliant on touch as a diagnostic tool now, thanks to imaging.”
In other words: Any place a health care worker needs to lay hands on a patient, telemedicine won’t help much. But where they don’t? Telemedicine, say doctors, has a place.
In communities without advanced resources or specialists, for example, telemedicine can fill gaps. Oregon has only three pediatric intensive care units—all in Portland. So Miles Ellenby, a pediatrician and medical director of the telemedicine program at Oregon Health and Science University, can use a video set-up to be bedside next to children in rural areas or small towns, consulting on critical cases. He tells of one instance when a newborn, blue and exhibiting a low heart-rate, needed to be resuscitated—a very delicate procedure. Luckily, the doctors in charge could teleconference with a specialist to talk them through each step. Fifteen minutes later, the baby was breathing normally and crying like an ambulance siren.
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