Recently Dr. Christine Hamori and Dr. Bill Adams met with Dr. Constantine Mendieta to discuss the latest trend in new patient visits—the online consult. Dr. Mendieta, who runs a busy Miami office claims virtual consults are a growing part of his practice. He posed the question to his colleagues: “To Skype or not to Skype…Should today’s technological advances change the way we assess candidates for plastic surgery?”
Tech vs. Touch
Dr. Hamori, who practices in Boston, does not currently entertain online consults. She admitted her hesitancy in adopting virtual technology was the implication that she might miss the nuances a face to face meeting provided. “Being able to touch a patient, observe them in an animated state and having an intimate conversation is not possible with Skype.” However, after hearing some of the distinct advantages experienced by Dr. Mendieta, Dr. Hamori was willing to give it a try for a certain group of patients. “It appears to be a valid way to provide some initial education and determine if a prospective patient is a good candidate for the procedure they are seeking.”
Technology as a Natural Progression
Dr. Adams is thrilled to channel his inner geek. “I love technology and think this is a natural progression for consults. People are coming to surgeons from all over the nation and in some cases the world. It would be counterproductive to have them travel under a false pretense that could otherwise have been quickly addressed virtually.” Dr. Mendieta agrees. “You stop false expectations, extra costs and length of stay if someone has to travel for an initial meeting.” Dr. Adams, who practices in Dallas, Texas uses skype or phone to qualify patients interested in a virtual meeting. He advises patients to send pictures through his secure portal. “For some patients who are long distance or want more convenience, online consults are a good first step in building relationships.”
All three surgeons completely agree that an online consult, while efficient and in some cases a very effective “preview,” should never take the place of meeting in person. Nor are some patients keen on the idea of virtual meetings and that’s understandable. “There is nothing like feeling tissue and examining a patient,” says Dr. Mendieta. “A virtual consult is a great way to vet someone but some cases are more straightforward than others. There is a greater margin for error. Things can be overlooked online. Skype has changed the way I practice, but will never substitute for face to face encounters where you make final decisions on the surgical plan.” Dr. Mendieta also likes Skype as a means for keeping in touch with patients well after they have recovered to sustain the relationship.
Ushering in a New Era
Sharing more information earlier in the process, determining if the procedure sought is the best avenue to pursue and seeing if there is a good “fit” between patient and surgeon seem to be the top benefits of online consults. Dr. Mendieta is excited about what’s on the horizon. “As technology advances, we are participating in the beginning of a fabulous era in medicine.”