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Gupta: Telemedicine preserves ‘human connection’ that patients crave

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

(MedCity News) – CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, believes that much of the medical community’s reluctance to embrace telehealth technologies stems from a notion that hands-on care is better.

When Gupta was a resident at the University of Michigan Medical Center, it was “almost like a religious thing” that doctors had to touch patients to make proper diagnoses and treatment decisions, he said Sunday at American Telemedicine Association’s 20th annual conference in Los Angeles.

But Gupta offered a little historical perspective. “Doctors have been diagnosing, truly diagnosing, from afar for a long time,” he said. Gupta noted that Dr. James Parkinson, the namesake of the neurological disorder, wrote a seminal essay on the telltale tremors in 1817, mostly from observing people walking through a London park. According to Gupta, Parkinson only ever physically examined two patients with what would later be known as Parkinson’s disease.

“The idea of providing care remotely is feasible,” said Gupta, who has occasionally reported on telemedicine.

This led Gupta to surmise that the “human connection,” even through communication technologies, might be more important than physical touch. “We are one of the few professions where the human connection is so important,” Gupta, an Emory University neurosurgeon, said about medicine.

“It’s on us” to continue the human connection in medicine, Gupta told the audience of telehealth practitioners professionals and the technologists who support them.

“Some of my best conversations have taken place over a screen,” Gupta continued. He said that he relies on Skype a lot to communicate with his three daughters when he is traveling. The girls got so used to talking to their dad on video chats that when they were very young, they talked to him when they saw him on TV, then wondered why he didn’t respond, he said.

But what happens when technology fails? Gupta cited comedian Mitch Hedberg, who has joked that he likes an escalators because even if they break down, they still work as stairs. Gupta said there is a “redundancy built into the system.” Telehealth professionals and developers should keep this in mind and come up with ways to provide comfort to consumers even if the system goes down.

Gupta did not discuss embattled TV physician Dr. Mehmet Oz. Gupta is leading a crowdsourced pilot study of a mobile app that measures stress by analyzing voice tone on behalf of Sharecare, a company co-founded by Oz and entrepreneur Jeff Arnold, of WebMD fame.

ATA President Yulun Wang, whose day job is CEO of InTouch Health, did link Gupta to another famous physician, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who just happens to be keynoting ATA Monday morning. Wang noted that Gupta did an in-depth interview with Soon-Shiong on the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” late last year.

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