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NEW DELHI: The traditional belief that medicine is only practised at the bedside is now undergoing a metamorphosis, what with the extended
lockdown and the hesitance on the part of patients to venture out and doctors to initiate clinics.
While virtual Wall Street attendance during the dusky hours from India and ‘dawny’ hours from Frisco was a done thing, today’s upmarket lawyers are attending the virtual courtroom in India, Europe and then even the US, sometimes all in a day.
Markets and courts can wait but illness needs immediate attention. Necessity being the mother of invention, the smartphone became the link to the new patient-doctor relationship.
From a tool to send prescription fillers and discuss symptoms, video link has now become the lifeline for ailing patients who are virtually in front of their own physician, no matter where each of them is located.
The ability of the camera to display swollen legs with inflamed skin, to transmit the pain and anguish of the suffering patient from the comfort of home, is proving to be a boon.
On the other hand, trained clinicians have swiftly overcome the challenge of adapting to the camera and making working diagnoses from what is seen and heard. They have learnt to work around the clinical limitations and make an assessment aided by emailed reports and remarks from a patient’s concerned relatives.

Nothing can replace the percussion and stethoscope, but alas, that has had to be compromised amid the pandemic. With telemedicine gaining ground, even senior physicians are acclimatising to this virtual reality, for it seems to be serving the purpose, at least momentarily.
This is also an opportunity for middle-class educated patients desirous of seeking opinions of specialists in other parts of the world, for they now believe that they can be in Mayo from their homes.

I am sure more such telemedicine centres will mushroom and enable a well-prepared patient to see doctors in three continents all in a day, to clear their doubts and make that informed decision that they always yearned for but could not arrive at.
This is not to say that bedside medicine will be done away with, but certainly this digital rescue in Covid times has given a new facet to medical practice. Importantly, certain medico-legal issues will always remain, because unlike the section in a lawyer’s brief that can be rewritten, the handicap of not being ‘there’ always leaves a slip between the cup and the lip and this has to be factored in by both parties.
However, in case of patients initially physically examined, it does pave the way for tele-advice post-hospitalisation, where the consultant can be aided by the resident doctor, to avoid unnecessary visits.
This new norm has ‘arrived’. It definitely needs fine tuning with safety clauses for the provider while aiming at convenience for the needy. Maybe, a new subject will now be introduced in medical school. Just as aerial warfare has not fully replaced foot combat, so the patient-doctor saga will continue to unfold online while the role of the clinic finds its own level.
(Dr Hemant Thacker is a consultant physician & cardiometabolic specialist attached to the TOI and South Mumbai Hospitals. Email: [email protected])

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