Telemedicine sounds like a new thing, but the origins of “remote” healthcare lie all the way back in the 1950s. Many decades ago, patients learned that they didn’t always need to visit their physician in person when a simple phone call would suffice.
Today, telemedicine is supported by high-speed internet access, allowing us to attend face-to-face virtual “visits” with our healthcare providers. And in the time of Covid-19 and shelter-in-place orders, many insurance carriers are now covering telemedicine appointments.
Telemedicine actually encompasses three areas of patient care:
- Interactive care allows patients and healthcare providers to “meet” virtually to discuss symptoms and other concerns
- Remote patient monitoring allows providers to collect data on patients remotely, such as blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and more
- Store and forward is a method of sharing a patient’s healthcare information with other providers and specialists (with the patient’s permission, of course)
While telemedicine does include all of these areas of practice, most of us associate the term with virtual medical appointments conducted via video call. These interactive care appointments can benefit the patient in a number of ways, including:
- No need to travel to an appointment; the visit can be conducted from home or anywhere else the patient is located
- No worries about obtaining childcare or juggling schedules in order to attend appointments
- Fewer hours missed from work and/or school
- Limiting exposure to other illnesses in hospitals or medical offices
- Quicker access to care
- Affordability of care; telemedicine appointments are often priced much lower than in-office consultations
- Covered by many health insurance plans
- Reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid/Medi-Cal in many situations
Of course, telemedicine appointments should not be used for emergency situations. Patients should always call 911 or proceed to an emergency room if they suspect heart attack or stroke, have sustained a serious injury, or otherwise need immediate lifesaving care. But for routine care, minor illnesses and injuries, mental health treatment, and many other non-emergency situations, telemedicine provides safe and quality healthcare at greater convenience to the consumer.
Even better, the monetary savings help us all by helping to lower the cost of healthcare. Ask your healthcare provider if they offer telemedicine appointments, and familiarize yourself with the process so that you know what to do next time you need healthcare services.