Objective: The objective of this study was to compare doctor-patient communications in clinical consultations via telemedicine technology to doctor-patient communications in face-to-face clinical consultations.
Method: Five doctors who had been practicing internal medicine for 8 to 18 years, and twenty patients were enrolled in this study; neither doctors nor patients had previous experience of telemedicine. The patients received both a telemedicine consultation and a face-to-face consultation. Three measures--video observation, medical record volume, and participants' satisfaction--were used for the assessment.
Results: It was found that the time spent on the telemedicine consultation was substantially longer than the time spent on the face-to-face consultation. No statistically significant differences were found in the number of either closed or open-ended questions asked by doctors between both types of consultation. Empathy-utterances, praise-utterances, and facilitation-utterances were, however, seen less in the telemedicine consultations than in the face-to-face consultations. The volume of the medical records was statistically smaller in the telemedicine consultations than in the face-to-face consultations. Patients were satisfied with the telemedicine consultation, but doctors were dissatisfied with it and felt hampered by the communication barriers.
Conclusions: This study suggests that new training programs are needed for doctors to develop improved communication skills and the ability to express empathy in telemedicine consultations.