By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Having a doctor’s appointment over the Internet, via Skype or similar services, may be more common in a few years, according to local health care experts who testified today at a City Council hearing on the future of telemedicine.

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“I don’t know that we can even imagine what health care will be like five or ten years from now,” said Philadelphia health commissioner Dr. Donald Schwarz, who told a City Council committee that telemedicine is in its infancy but will likely grow in coming years.


(Dr. Donald Schwarz, Philadelphia's health commissioner.  Image from City of Phila. TV)

(Dr. Donald Schwarz, Philadelphia’s health commissioner. Image from City of Phila. TV)

The committee also heard from Dr. James Herbert, who heads Drexel’s psychology department.  He said psychotherapy by Skype has already proven effective.

“We may be sitting in our office at Drexel and may be treating someone in Nebraska, or wherever.  And what we find in our preliminary research is that it works just as well as the traditional face-to-face therapy,” he said.


(Dr. James Herbert.  Image from City of Phila. TV)

(Dr. James Herbert. Image from City of Phila. TV)

Dr. Herbert noted that even locally based therapy patients may prefer counseling over the Internet.

“People right down the road are often more willing to seek treatment if they can do it remotely, in the comfort and convenience of their home, rather than having to get up and travel to a clinic,” he said.

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Dr. Carrie Kovarik, a dermatologist at the University of Pennsylvania, displayed an app that lets general practitioners send photos and x-rays to dermatologists and other specialists in remote locations.

(Dr. Carrie Kovarik.    Image from City of Phila. TV)

(Dr. Carrie Kovarik. Image from City of Phila. TV)


“We’ve done cervical cancer screening globally, radiology — anything that you can take a photo or video of can be done like that,” she said.

Dr. Kovarik and others told the committee that telemedicine can help bring much-needed care to low-income, disabled, and elderly clients.

But one note of caution came from Health Commissioner Schwarz, who said legal and bureaucratic questions posed by telemedicine are far from settled.

“The world on the Internet is open.  But the reimbursement mechanisms, and the safety mechanisms, and the legal mechanisms have to be worked out,” he said.

Other issues include jurisdiction for medical licensure, and insurance coverage, including malpractice.


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