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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Online Occupational Therapy?

Published June 30, 2015 9:38 AM by Debra Karplus
I don't watch much television, but last night, while dozing, I caught the tail end of a commercial advertising a telehealth service that consumers can subscribe to. I was curious and did a bit of research about this. From what I could figure out, a consumer can get 24/7 access to a physician via a Skype-like service to diagnose a health problem. It is a convenient and affordable way to "see" a doctor.

This jogged my memory to an experience I had actually had when I unknowingly used such a service. A few years ago, I spent part of a summer in a wooded area out in the wilderness. Before I went there, I was told that there was medical care on the premises if I needed it. The idea of such a service gave me peace of mind.

While there, one morning I awoke and the entire left side of my face was swollen, especially around my eye. I figured out that a spider must have bitten me near my eye, causing an allergic reaction. An ice pack applied to the area did not help, nor did taking Benadryl, which always works for any allergic reaction I might have.

I told the director of the facility where I was staying and they quickly directed me to the physician. That was when I learned that the on-premises medical care by a real doctor that I was promised was in fact live, but was on a TV screen. The TV doctor "examined" my rash and nonchalantly said it would go away on its own and that I should not be too concerned.

But I typically have a good sense of intuition and I suspected this was not just a run-of-the-mill rash. So I found a phone and called my own physician back home. He told me to get to a "real doctor," pronto, and he told me exactly what medicine needed to be administered. Barely able to see out of my left eye, and grossly uncomfortable in general, I found someone to drive me into town. At the walk-in health clinic, I was given two injections, both in my bottom, and by morning I was nearly okay.

A TV physician is better than a no doctor at all, in many circumstances, but in my situation, I literally could have died from a severe allergic reaction. 

My incident with this allergic reaction and with the recent viewing of a commercial for telehealth made me start wondering about the future of health care and specifically of occupational therapy. I was at an alternative high school recently and noticed that some of the students take physical education online via a popular school website. That made no sense to me!

So I wonder, will the hands-on approach that OTs have always used as one of their main ways to diagnose and treat someday fall to the wayside in the name of cost containment and "more efficient" service delivery?

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on this...

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