By HANS DUVEFELT
Today I saw a patient I have known for years. He suddenly pulled his mask down and said, “I’d like to know what you think I should do about this”.
On his nose was an 8 mm (1/3”) brownish-red flat spot with a crack or scrape through it.
“How long have you had it?”, I asked.
“Oh, a while now” he answered. That is about the least helpful time measurement I know of. I asked him to pin it down a bit more precisely. He settled for about a year. I prescribed a cream and made a two week follow-up appointment for either cryo or a biopsy. It’s probably just an excoriated, premalignant, actinic keratosis.
Back when life was different, this would not have gone unnoticed. But, of course, we’ve been wearing masks for over a year and a half now, so no wonder I wouldn’t have noticed it just talking to the man.
I walked down the hall and told my new partner what just happened.
“Oh, yeah”, she said. “Same thing happened to me – a basal cell cancer. And I find it difficult sometimes to assess things like the state of emotion with no facial expressions. And, even worse, I’ve got a lot of patients that are new to me that I don’t even know what they look like.”
“Of course, you started here six months before the pandemic”, I registered. “That really must feel weird.”
Telemedicine is considered better than telephone medicine just because you can judge demeanor, facial expressions, and so many other things better visually than with your hearing only. So where do masked in-person visits fall on that spectrum? Of course, we can see head shaking and shoulder shrugging, so masked visits win over telephonic, but my next thought here is that maybe I should reconsider my skepticism about a former colleague I heard about just the other day.
This doctor will now have a patient sit in the exam room while she herself sits in her office. In front of the patient is a computer and the two of them basically do the first part of the visit as if they had a “regular” telemedicine consultation. Then, the doctor may or may not step into the office in order to do whatever physical exam the clinical situation requires.
I suddenly see at least a little bit of logic in that approach. Because that way they can both talk without masks on. (Or should you, with what we now know about aerosol transmission in the exam room and all…).
Hans Duvefelt is a Swedish-born rural Family Physician in Maine. This post originally appeared on his blog, A Country Doctor Writes, here.