Does Telemedicine Require a Higher Degree of Health Literacy?

Last week’s #HITsm chat was hosted by Joe Lavelle aka @Resultant on the topic of #telemedicine. It was a lively chat with many interesting insights and opinions. Two tweets in particular caught my eye:


Both these tweets got me thinking about how patients approach a #telemedicine encounter. Do patients feel they need to be more self-aware about their own health or be more health literate in order to participate in #telemedicine? Basically are telemedicine patients more active in their own care than those that see doctors in-person?

I was really curious to learn more about the patient side of the experience so I reached out to a friend who uses #telemedicine to see a specialist. When I asked my friend (who asked me not to use her name) if she treated telemedicine appointments any different than regular appointments she laughed. It turns out that before telemedicine was made available to her, she did not have easy in-person access to a specialist she needed. This was a function of living in an out-of-the-way rural area that only has a small Urgent Care Center nearby. Here is what she had to say about telemedicine:

After I was diagnosed with my illness, I had to start using telemedicine to see a specialist – otherwise I would have to drive 3+ hrs to the city to see him. I do prepare for my telemedicine visits a little differently than people who see a specialist in-person. I keep my own personal health diary. It’s basically a journal where I jot down how I’m feeling. I note any symptoms I have or any changes in my health. I review my health diary each telemedicine visit. I also bring any test results or other information that I may have. I also write down the questions I want to ask so I don’t forget.

I remarked that this is a lot of preparation for a doctor visit and that she must consider herself really engaged in her care. She didn’t think so: “Colin, if I don’t do these things, I won’t get anything valuable from the doctor. I do the things I do because I HAVE TO. I don’t really have a choice. My specialist doesn’t have a lot of tele-appointment slots so if I don’t get everything I need, I have to wait a long time. ”

It’s only a sample of 1, but I have to say that I consider my friend to be in the actively-involved-in-their-own-health category. In her case geographic circumstance is the primary motivation for her active involvement. I wonder if patient engagement will be an unintended benefit of telemedicine. I am definitely going to be watching to see if this happens. In the meantime I would be very interested in hearing from other people about their telemedicine experience.

About the author

Colin Hung

Colin Hung

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.