House calls are making a comeback for seniors suffering from Parkinson’s symptoms — only in the age of telecommunications, the consults are virtual house calls conducted over video chat. In recent years, telemedicine has proven an effective way for neurologists to provide diagnosis and treatment for people with Parkinson’s symptoms, especially those living hours away from the nearest specialist.
Most experts in Parkinson’s disease tend to be clustered in academic centers, and since the disease limits mobility, driving long distances presents a significant hurdle. Doctor visits done remotely over a webcam are an effective alternative for patients living at home who do not have easy access to specialists.
90 Percent Patient Satisfaction
A recent study published in the journal Neurology: Clinical Practice showed that by using a web-based video conferencing technology similar to Skype, Dr. Ray Dorsey, a neurologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), was able to diagnose and treat more than 50 patients with Parkinson’s symptoms, some of whom were seeing a neurologist for the first time. More than 90 percent of patients were satisfied with the remote care approach.
“This research demonstrates that we can reach anyone, anywhere with a given condition,” says Dorsey. “If we can successfully remove the barriers to telemedicine, this approach will ultimately allow more patients with Parkinson’s disease to live independently in their homes, while getting the care they need.”
According to the National Parkinson Foundation, studies have shown that telemedicine care can be as good as care received at an academic medical center. What’s more, many patients with Parkinson’s disease preferred the telemedicine method because they felt more at ease in their own home.
Saving Time and Money
Another major benefit of virtual house calls is savings in cost and time. A previous study by URMC found that not only did remote doctor visits cost less than care in a conventional setting, such as a hospital or clinic, but that virtual house calls saved patients, on average, more than three hours and 100 miles of travel per visit.
Virtual house calls can also help prevent serious medical injuries in those living at home with Parkinson’s symptoms. More than 500,000 Americans today over the age of 50 live with the disease, but 40 percent do not see a neurologist, placing them at greater health risks. Those who go without treatment by a specialist are 20 percent more likely to experience a fall and also 20 percent more likely to end up in an assisted living facility. Telemedicine technology would allow more patients to remain healthy while living at home by making sure they continue to receive the medical attention they need.
Dorsey and his fellow neurologists are expanding their program, adding 200 more patients in the coming year. “This study demonstrates that, by employing essentially the same technology that grandparents use to talk to their grandchildren, we can expand access to the specialized care that we know will improve patients’ quality of life and health,” Dorsey says.