LONDON — A housebound 92-year-old man had red, throbbing legs. A younger patient was complaining of a lump in his armpit. And the self-isolating residents of a nursing home needed checkups.
Those maladies and needs, once a waiting room’s worth of problems, are now being handled online and over the phone as the coronavirus fans out in Britain and across the world, rendering medical offices no-go zones for all but the sickest patients.
In a matter of days, a revolution in telemedicine has arrived at the doorsteps of primary care doctors in Europe and the United States. The virtual visits, at first a matter of safety, are now a centerpiece of family doctors’ plans to treat the everyday illnesses and undetected problems that they warn could end up costing additional lives if people do not receive prompt care.
“We’re basically witnessing 10 years of change in one week,” said Dr. Sam Wessely, a general practitioner in London. “It used to be that 95 percent of patient contact was face-to-face: You go to see your doctor, as it has been for decades, centuries. But that has changed completely.”
In Europe, virtual medicine has been held back by strict privacy regulations and patients reluctant to give up in-person doctor’s visits. British primary care doctors, too, have been barraged by growing workloads of late, with patients living longer and more problems being rerouted from hospitals, leaving them little time to train on virtual tools.
But technology companies are racing to capitalize on a regulatory pullback by governments as they battle the virus.
Neighborhood doctors, many of them once skeptics, are rushing into the new age, too, singing the praises of virtual visits that they say save them time and offer a useful complement to physical exams.
In the past, telemedicine had often involved companies beaming in doctors from hundreds of miles away for a quick prescription or piece of advice. But doctors are now using the same tools to prove to their usual patients that the same level of convenience is available at their local clinics.
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