Although many cosmetic surgeons and other specialists are starting to offer Web-based virtual consultations, critics are raising concerns about licensing issues and the security of such services, the New York Times reports.
Benefits of Virtual Consultations
When using virtual consultation services, patients exchange e-mails, photos or videos with a health care provider to obtain advice or price quotes for a particular procedure.
Supporters of the technology say it allows patients to compare options and prices from multiple physicians. Others note that the online service can be more convenient than in-person visits, particularly for out-of-town patients.
In addition, some surgeons said the anonymity of online consultations might attract patients who are reticent to discuss a certain procedure in-person.
Other physicians say the virtual consultation tools help them market their services to new audiences.
Concerns About the Trend
However, some experts contend that virtual consultations and digital photos do not provide physicians with sufficient information to make a reliable diagnosis.
They also argue that online consultations could be misleading if a surgeon decides to raise the cost of a procedure after seeing a patient in person.
Others say physicians might be entering into shaky legal territory with virtual consultations that cross state lines. Most state laws require physicians to be licensed in the state where a patient receives their services.
In addition, privacy advocates note that many virtual consultation services have insufficient protections to ensure the privacy and security of transmitted data (Saint Louis, New York Times, 1/21).