Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

Ideal telehealth versus the sketchy reality

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
Get posts in your inbox:
Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Recently I had my first virtual doctoring experience. I spent about an hour reviewing several Canadian telehealth services, and found them to be uniformly terrible: ugly, janky, even sketchy.

The only website that actually looked good did not actually work: it claimed that my perfectly cromulent personal health number is “invalid” and provided no recourse. And the support chat feature was clearly broken! Prettily designed junk.

Um, can I get a little privacy here please?

It particularly bothered me that all these services just seemed to take it for granted that I’d be happy to give them critical personal data right up front. If I walk into a clinic and the receptionist wants my details, fine… but some sketchy website with cheesy stock photos of people laughing merrily like needing a doctor stat is the most fun they’ve had with their clothes on? Nope! If these services can’t make a good user interface, I don’t trust them at all with a photograph of my driver’s license.

And that’s assuming that they are actually legit. How many of these operations are just harvesting data before disappearing?

Telehealth? More like telefailure!

I spent a good twenty minutes summarizing my issue and uploading a photo (annotated, no less). It was not nothing to get that photo (kind of an awkward spot!) and wrangling the annotations. When the appointment came, the tech completely failed. The video call didn’t come through the app. The doctor ended placing a phone call. And my notes and photograph were just invisible to him — despite the fact that they were clearly present in the app, attached to the appointment on my end. I could see them, he could not. Sheesh.

What do people like about telehealth anyway? It doesn’t seem like there’s much to love based on my experiences so far, but it sure would be nice to get care “at my own pace, space, and place.” Space and place seem a little redundant, but that is the catchy title of a new paper, a review of 21 studies of patient experiences with telehealth for aches and pains. Patients also liked being encouraged to do things for themselves.

On the other side of the ledger? The reality seems to be dominated by unfamiliar and glitchy tech, cold and impersonal service, and irrelevant or shallow content — like getting a tech support response that barely has anything to do with what you asked. Meh!