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Children’s health concern raised for online doctor visits

Online doctor visits have quickly become commonplace in the United States, and South Carolina is keeping pace.

As just one example, earlier this year the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) partnered with Darlington County Schools, to the northwest of Florence, to bring online medical visits to students.

Both institutions expressed hope for improved children’s care and school performance.

Plenty of studies have repeatedly supported this confidence in telemedicine in multiple ways. It has potential for improving the convenience, accessibility and cost of medical care for communities where these are major healthcare hurdles.

But concerns about online doctor visits continue to be raised, and not just by old-fashioned folks with technology phobias.

Limits of diagnosing and prescribing online

In April, the National Institutes of Health published a study in the journal Pediatrics that casts doubt on some judgments doctors make when writing prescriptions for children based on online visits.

Primary care providers prescribe antibiotics to 31 percent of children with respiratory infections, but online care prescribes antibiotics for 52 percent of such children, according to the study.

The causes are probably twofold. In-person, hands-on physical exams may be better at telling bacterial infections from viral infections. Bacterial infections often benefit from antibiotics, while viral infections don’t.

Also, online visits can’t do laboratory tests to decisively distinguish the two infection types.

Dangers of over-prescribing

When children take unnecessary prescription medicine, the wasted expense alone is concerning enough, but there’s also a very serious health concern.

It’s believed that over-prescription of antibiotics helps create new strains of resistant bacteria, and doctors have begun to face stubborn cases of once easily treated conditions.

South Carolina is not one of the 35 states that require private insurers to cover digital visits on a par with in-person visits, but lawmakers appear to be working toward it.

It may be that the future of online medicine will also bring innovations in malpractice case law. That’s a question judges, attorneys, healthcare providers, patients and parents will have to answer together in the years to come.

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