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Doctors Use Teleconference to See Patients

University of Miami dermatologist Dr. Anne Burdick checks the computer screen in her Miami office, as she discusses telemedicine, April 8, 2014.

Telemedicine, the process of connecting doctors and patients over the phone or a computer, has been around for years, but using popular Internet-based video chat programs to see a doctor is gaining traction in the U.S.

Doctors say looking and listening are among the most important skills they employ in their interaction with patients, so teleconferencing is quite acceptable for diagnosing less serious ailments such as colds and sprains.

Several companies in the U.S., including the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, offer video chats with doctors, averaging 10 to 15 minutes, for a fee of about $40.

They stress that these services are not intended to replace in-person visits to doctors’ offices but rather as first-step remedies for acute problems.

Proponents of telemedicine admit that it isn’t always the right choice for care, but they say that, as the technology gets better, "teledoctors" will be able to offer more comprehensive services.