- A recent study published in JAMA Dermatology of 16 online telemedicine companies found some of the online physicians misdiagnosed skin cancer, herpes, and syphilis in addition to prescribing medication without taking a patient's medical history.
- The researchers created several fake skin condition scenarios and downloaded stock photos of them with prepared medical histories of "patients" if the physicians asked for them.
- Diagnoses were provided in 48 of 62 completed online visits and 31 prescribed medications, but only 10 patients were advised about potential risks or side effects. Less than 30% of the sites allowed users to select their own clinician.
Most diagnoses that involved conditions identifiable by photos only were usually correct, the study found. However, three clinicians out of 14 who viewed photos of nodular melanoma told the patient it was benign, despite the fact that nodular melanoma is actually an aggressive cancer. A young women, with inflammatory acne, was not asked by any of the 12 consulting clinicians about irregular periods or visible facial hair, so her polycystic ovarian syndrome went undiagnosed.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Jack Resneck, a dermatologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said the online services "failed to ask simple, relevant questions of patients about their symptoms, lead them to repeatedly miss important diagnoses."
Telemedicine has been rapidly increasing with insurance company coverage on the rise and greater access via retail clinics. More than half of all U.S. hospitals have a telemedicine program. Yet, even Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, said quality control is needed. The group started an accreditation program last year and only seven companies have been approved so far out of 500 that applied.