Study: Virtual urgent care docs only effective half the time

There may be a few kinks left to work out when it comes to using virtual doctors to treat real patients with urgent medical issues, according to results of a study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco asked volunteers to visit popular virtual physician services online and over the phone for common conditions including ankle injuries, strep throat and back pain to test how well treatment guidelines were followed.

They found that about one in four patients received either an inaccurate diagnosis or no diagnosis at all, with virtual doctors following standard diagnostic protocols and correctly treating patients in just 54 percent of cases.

“One of the more surprising findings of the study was the universally low rate of testing when it was needed,” lead researcher Adam Schoenfeld, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, told Reuters. “We don’t know why, but it may reflect the challenges of ordering or following up on tests performed near where the patient lives but far from where the doctor is, or concern about the costs to the patient of additional testing.”

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