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Virtual second opinions

Patients who want to consult another physician now have online access to several prestigious hospitals. But many doctors question diagnosing without an in-person exam.

December 30, 2002|Daniel Costello | Special to the Times

Most e-second opinion programs work the same way. All patients must first be examined by another doctor. They then fill out an extensive medical history questionnaire online and later have their primary doctor send their medical records, such as CAT scans, X-rays and lab tests, through the mail.

Some hospitals send the opinions directly to the primary doctor so the doctor can discuss it with the patient. Most services cost from $500 to $1,000 and are not covered by insurance.

But what happens when your second doctor disagrees with the first? Dr. Joseph Kvedar, director of telemedicine for Partners Healthcare, which oversees Massachusetts General's online program, says that happens up to 30% of the time. In such cases, patients are usually asked to visit the medical center in person for an exam.

While the services available today primarily use e-mail, hospitals say they are trying to improve technical capabilities so they can both send and receive the medical information better. Some hope to have video-conferencing next year, while others are counting on new remote real-time diagnostic technology that will allow doctors to scan and diagnose patients without being in the room. "This is only the very beginning," says Kvedar.

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