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Health forum talks future of online health care

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Using the Internet and telecommunications to provide health care to patients was the topic Thursday at the Connect2Health forum at the Mayo Clinic. A panel of experts talked about the need to make sure that people know there is technology available to them to get health care from somewhere other than a doctor's office or hospital.

Reduced cost and increased accessibility are two benefits that experts talked about in relation to telemedicine. They said the next step is making sure fast broadband access is available to everyone so they can have access to the technology.

Dr. Sarvam TerKonda, one of the panelists at the forum, talked about how a change to using the Internet will be a change similar to how people used to do their banking in person, but now do most of it online. Panelists also referred to it as similar to medical practices of the past.

"This is the modern-day house call. We are bringing the physician to the patient. The patient can be at home or at a facility far from Mayo Clinic and see a specialist at their location," TerKonda, Mayo Clinic's Medical Director of Connected Care, said.

According to FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, seniors and those with mobility issues are two groups that will benefit most from the new options. Whether it's a kiosk in an office building, a pharmacy, or a retirement home, or just using a laptop or phone, anyone with Internet access can use the new technology.

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"If mobility is a factor and people cannot get to a brick and mortar health care facility, technology will be the key to bridge that gap," Clyburn said.

Clyburn said the technology is also a great way to get someone who might be afraid of going into a doctor's office the chance to get the care they need.

"I might be fearful of somebody's opinion of me if I walk into an office. That no longer exists. When we are talking about critical care, especially psychological, the stigma doesn't have to be one people know about," Clyburn said.

Healthspot's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Gail Croall, said that in telemedicine kiosks like those offered by Healthspot, a patient walks in, connects with a doctor and soon has answers and can easily get them to a primary care doctor if needed.

"They feel better engaged with the doctor in this technology than they do in the office," Croall said. "At the end of the visit, you actually get a printed copy, so you can take your printed copy, and online you can actually email your primary care doctor a copy. Or if your doctor is in the health care system, it is already in your electronic medical record."

Clyburn also said that one of the keys to expanding telemedicine is ensuring that patients' medical records will still be very well protected even though care is coming over the Internet, something that they are continually working to ensure.