People with multiple sclerosis (MS) and their caregivers appear to be just as satisfied with a video evaluation given by a neurologist using telemedicine as they have been with those done through an in-person visit, a review from the American Academy of Neurology reports.
Telemedicine allows a patient to connect with a doctor through a secure video conference or another technology in real time. Such visits are similar to a traditional visits with a doctor, except that the doctor will be evaluating and speaking via a screen.
Telemedicine is becoming increasingly common due to its ease of use, as the patient could be at home or almost anywhere when an appointment is scheduled.
“Telemedicine can be especially helpful for people with epilepsy, who may not be able to drive to appointments, people with neurologic disorders like multiple sclerosis and movement disorders, who may have mobility issues that make getting to a clinic difficult, and, of course, for people in rural areas who may not be able to see a neurologist based hours away without making that trip,” Jaime Hatcher-Martin, MD, PhD, the study’s first author and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, said in a press release.
“Another effective use may be for evaluating people with possible concussions … For sports injuries, it could be used to make a decision on whether the athlete is ready to return to the field,” added Hatcher-Martin, who works with the acute care company SOC Telemed.
Stroke patients have made the most use of telemedicine for their clinical neurologic assessments for at least 10 years. But strong evidence is lacking for people needing other areas of neurology.
Researchers with the American Academy of Neurology reviewed published data evaluating the role of telemedicine in the care of patients with neurological diseases other than stroke.
In total, they assessed 101 studies on telemedicine’s use that included people with MS, concussion, traumatic brain injury, epilepsy, headaches, dementia, movement diseases, and neuromuscular conditions.
In general, the team found that patients and their caregivers were just as satisfied with doctor visits given via telemedicine as they were with in-person visits.
Evidence gathered indicated that the use of telemedicine was associated with “benefits in expediting care, increasing access, reducing cost, and improving diagnostic accuracy and health outcomes,” the researchers wrote.
But apart from stroke, only a few randomized and controlled studies — necessary to ensure this evidence is reliable and not biased — have been conducted on telemedicine in most neurology fields.
“This is just the beginning of evaluating the benefits of telemedicine in neurology,” said Raghav Govindarajan, an MD with the University of Missouri, senior author of the study, and chair of the American Academy of Neurology’s Telemedicine Work Group.
Further studies are needed, Govindarajan said, to better understand when telemedicine appointments are a good option for a given patient.
“Keep in mind that telemedicine may not eliminate the need for people to meet with a neurologist in person. Rather, it is another tool that can help increase people’s access to care, and also help lessen the burden of travel and costs for patients, providers and caregivers,” he added.