Doctors, Therapy Over the Internet: Pros and Cons

Cathy Health Guide
  • When I was a child, I loved a cartoon program called The Jetsons. It was a futuristic look at the life of an “ordinary” family in 2062 – sort of a space-aged version of The Flintstones.  I thought it’d be so cool to live the way they lived.  Cars flying in the air.  Plush “Skypad” apartments for living space - they were located in structures that looked like Seattle’s Space Needle. The apartment was furnished with every technologically advanced gadget in each and every room.  I watched The Jetsons on our tiny black-and-white television (even though it was the first cartoon broadcast in “living color”).  I was truly mesmerized.

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    In Orbit City, where The Jetsons lived, all telephonic communications for business or personal use were conducted on a television screen – you could see who you were talking to as well as hear them.  In the early 60s that seemed inconceivable.


    Today, I am writing this post on a laptop that rests comfortably in my lap. I have the ability to click one tiny button and - WHAM - I can see and hear my son, who lives several hours away at college.  I can have a comfortable chat with him all in the comfort of my home! To those of you who grew up with computers, this may not seem incredible, but believe me, it is sheer genius.  It is also utterly convenient for someone with a chronic illness.


    Last weekend I read an article in the New York Times entitled, “When Your Therapist is Only a Click Away” by Jan Hoffman.  It talked about how Skype and some encrypted digital software via a third party (e.g., ) are popularizing online audiovisual therapy.  One source, a lawyer and psychologist who consults with the American Psychological Association Insurance Trust, was quoted as saying, “In three years, this will take off like a rocket.”  For those with MS, online therapy could be a perfect option. Whether you have Skype, a webcam or an appropriate phone application, one simple click is all it takes for your hourly appointment.  No need to walk or drive or worry about getting to your appointment.  You can sit and rest your weary body while attending your therapy session.


    A few years ago, I worked for The International Organization of Multiple Sclerosis Nurses, or IOMSN. I attended an educational dinner to speak to nurses about our organization.  Two of the nurses in attendance, who worked at a nursing home, told us several of their residents had MS and were shut-ins, with no family living nearby and no computer access.  I remembered I had an older computer at home that was not being used.  I wiped out the hard drive and donated it to The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, requesting it be donated to a nursing home in need of a computer.  That small gesture was a grand one for the recipients of our computer.  The new owners of our computer now had endless opportunities to reach out to others with MS. These seniors now had choices at their fingertips.


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    The growing field of online therapy makes me wonder whether there will be an expansion of online opportunities into other disciplines for people with MS.  For example, will neurologists want to save time by speaking to their patient online rather than having them come into their office?  Will local support groups meet online instead of the local church or town hall?


    Let’s think about this.  Having online appointments are extremely convenient and will save money on gasoline for your car.  Also, it is easier for someone who has MS fatigue or is in a wheelchair to schedule online appointments.


    We must consider the negative side in all of this - the loss of human connection.  You no longer are physically next to the person, and I think that is a big negative.  No matter how sophisticated our technology becomes, and how convenient using the computer can be, the ability to come face-to-face in person with someone else is of enormous value. An eye movement, a hand gesture, a tiny sigh – these can easily be overlooked.  For me, it’s always confusing to know where to look - do I look directly at the screen, or into the tiny red light where the camera is?  I know you’re supposed to look into the camera, but it’s so hard not to look at the person you are talking to on the screen!  Perhaps I would not be a good candidate for online therapy.


    Online therapy may not be for everyone.  It is a personal choice, and choice means we have options, and options are a wonderful thing to have.  When I was diagnosed I didn’t have many options.  There were no injectible or oral medications.  No laptops.  No World Wide Web. No Smartphones or iPhones. 


    As time goes by, perhaps Skype and similar programs will expand and grow and offer us even more choices than we have today.  Maybe in 5, 10, or 25 years, people with MS will have as many choices to make their lives easier as the characters on The Jetsons.  Of course, it would be even better to have a cure by then! In the meantime, I’ll “see” you on the web, and let me know if you have any thoughts about what I’ve talked about.

Published On: October 04, 2011