It’s estimated that one in four Americans suffers from chronic poor digestive health. Symptoms include constipation, diarrhea, bloating, acid reflux, and abdominal pain. The majority of sufferers are women. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a recognized condition that impacts many people and is particularly hard to diagnose conclusively and then to treat. It’s believed that the number of documented people who have IBS is far less than the number of actual sufferers, due to some people self-medicating and others not being formally diagnosed. Many patients are not happy with their current health care provider – either because they haven’t received a definitive diagnosis or, if they have, they didn’t find the post-diagnosis care helpful or they found it too expensive. Whatever the reasons, it seems a good time for telemedicine to enter the IBS arena and increase its impact on patients.
In fact, telemedicine is already being used in the diagnosis and treatment of IBS and other digestive complaints. Recent and ongoing research has compared the effectiveness of the traditional medical clinical team approach versus a technology-based approach. It’s important to find a way that works with every patient so that they receive better treatment and an improved quality of life. That treatment won’t be the same for everyone, as we all have different needs, different problems, and different responses. Telemedicine will undoubtedly be the answer for many, though, and is certainly the way of the future as technology continues to expand and develop.
Imagine being able to have a Skype or phone conversation with your physician, rather than having to make an appointment, wait for that appointment, travel to that appointment, and take time off work or away from your kids for that appointment. Life would be a little easier, right? Not only easier, but you would save time and money. You can easily describe your symptoms to the doctor – he or she will know the right questions to ask. A digestive issue, at least in the early stages, is the sort of medical problem that doesn’t generally need a physical examination. Your symptoms, diet, and habits are of more significance. Once you’ve been assessed, your physician can email a prescription over to your nearest drugstore and you’ll hopefully be on your way to some relief.
Given the unpredictable nature of digestive complaints, you might also be much more relieved to conduct an appointment with your physician in the comfort and safety of your own house, rather than having to face a journey by car or public transport and then a wait to see the doctor.
In addition to diagnosing and providing treatment for digestive issues, telemedicine has also been successfully used in monitoring patients with gastrointestinal problems. Several Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) centers have set up telemedicine systems designed to increase and improve the management of gastroenterology diseases and symptoms. Over time, the use of telemedicine in these cases has been shown to improve patients’ quality of life, reduce their disease activity, increase their compliance with short-term treatments, and shorten the time of any recovery relapses. Patients on these programs have generally responded well to the use of telemedicine and have accepted it as a successful way of monitoring their condition.
Another benefit of treating and monitoring IBS and other digestive issues via telemedicine is apparent to the many Americans who live in a remote part of our vast country. Just a journey to see a physician for an appointment can take the best part of a day. That’s time traveling when you’re probably in pain or discomfort; money spent on the travel; and time off work or away from the family. Aside from that, if you need specialist care, there may not even be any available close to you. So if you can access that care and then the after-care you need via telemedicine, it’s a win/win situation.
Part of the after-care telemedicine can provide includes patients having access to registered dietitians and health coaches who have specific training and expertise in dealing with gastrointestinal symptoms and recognized conditions such as IBS, IBD, and food allergies. It brings great comfort to patients knowing that they have the one-to-one support of an expert who is available at the touch of a keyboard. Patients are also encouraged to keep a record of what they eat, what they do, their symptoms, general health, general wellbeing, and so on. They can record this in whichever way works best for them – video, audio, written diary, etc. All this information can then be shared with their support person through the wonders of telemedicine.
There is no doubt that telemedicine is already having a positive impact on the diagnosis, treatment and management of digestive complaints. It’s highly likely that its use will be increased in the future, particularly for remote patients with restricted access to IBD centers; to improve and support patient self-management; and even as an instrument to increase health education and maintenance.