Telemedicine Effective for Parkinson's Disease

Quality of life found to be similar for patients with Parkinson’s disease who received in-office versus telemedicine-based care.

Results from a new study suggest that telemedicine may be as effective as in-person care for patients with Parkinson’s disease. The study, published in Neurology, found that neurologists were able to effectively provide care for patients via video conferencing.

These findings may help link patients with Parkinson’s disease with quality healthcare providers they may not otherwise have been able to access.

“Virtual house calls for chronic diseases like Parkinson’s are not only as effective as in-person care but broader adoption of this technology has the potential to expand access to patient-centered care,” said lead author Ray Dorsey, MD. “We now have the ability to reach anyone, anywhere but the promise and benefits of telemedicine will not be fully realized until the changes are made in Medicare policy.”

Approximately 40% of patients do not see a neurologist soon after diagnosis, which increases the risk of hip fractures, entering a nursing home or hospital, and death, according to the study.

The most substantial barriers for proper care for patients with Parkinson’s disease are disability and distance, according to the authors. A majority of specialists are located in urban areas, which poses a challenge to patients who mostly live in suburban or rural areas and have decreased mobility. Making frequent trips to the physician’s office may be difficult for these patients.

The Connect.Parkinson study aimed to determine whether neurologists would be able to deliver in-home care to patients through telemedicine. Included in the study were 195 patients with Parkinson’s disease who received care through their primary care physician or had an additional 4 visits through video conferencing with a neurologist.

Telemedicine may be a useful approach for these patients because diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson’s disease is heavily reliant on visual analysis, according to the authors. During the visit, physicians may ask patients to hold their hands or walk.

“Telemedicine is especially valuable to patients in remote, rural, and underserved areas because it gives them the ability to consult specialists they would otherwise have to travel hours to see,” said Peter Schmidt, PhD, senior vice president, chief research and clinical officer of the Parkinson’s Foundation. “The Parkinson’s Foundation aims to narrow these gaps in Parkinson’s care, which is why we are working with experts from URMC [University of Rochester Medical Center], a Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence.”

The authors found that telemedicine visits were just as effective as in-person visits since quality of life measures were similar for patients who received standard care versus care supplemented with telemedicine, according to the study.

Notably, the video conferencing saved patients an average of 169 minutes and approximately 100 miles of travel per visit.

While the findings show the benefits of telemedicine for patients with Parkinson’s disease, the authors report that adoption of the approach has been slowed by current policies. A majority of these patients are insured by Medicare, but the program does not reimburse for telemedicine services; however, legislation has been recently introduced to fix this issue, according to the study.

“We can shop, bank, make travel reservations, take classes, and buy groceries via the internet from the comfort of our own homes, but too many patients still cannot access healthcare,” Dr Dorsey concluded. “Telemedicine is an option if you are a veteran, a member of the Armed Services, a Medicaid beneficiary, or a Canadian, but not if you have a chronic condition and are a Medicare beneficiary.”