Healthcare News & Insights

Telehealth and ‘instant’ info: Does it do more harm than good?

Should you be tweeting wait times for your emergency department? What about letting patients self-diagnose from the comfort of their couch?

Twitter, highway billboards and texting are all ways hospital EDs are using to communicate more quickly with patients.

Some are even using a service that allows non-critical patients to “check-in” to the ED from home, and reserve a place in line ahead of their arrival.

It benefits everyone involved: Patients have a better idea of how long they’ll have to wait to get that possible cracked rib looked at. And patients with minor complaints who know that it could be a few hours before they get seen may choose another facility that’s less busy with critical patients.

Although it’s hard to argue against giving patients more accurate, timely info, there are serious downsides. A patient with a potentially life-threatening problem (for example, a heart attack patient who thinks he’s just having a bad GERD flare-up) may postpone treatment, or travel to a more distant hospital to get care.

In those cases, even slight delays can lead to serious complications — and in some cases, it might mean the difference between life or death.

Health care providers are faced with a tough situation: Patients have access to “instant info” — but it comes without the context and explanations a physician or nurse can provide.

What’s the best way to balance our ability to provide constant Twitter-like streams of information vs. people’s need balanced, complete information? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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