Telemedicine has been causing a lot of buzz lately. During the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine helped many patients stay on top of their health care without having to leave their homes. Still, you might have an avalanche of questions about what telemedicine is. Your first question might be, "Is telemedicine right for me and my needs?"
First, let’s clear up what telemedicine is. This type of telehealth allows patients and doctors to meet virtually through live video conferencing or phone calls. Usually, doctors will use platforms specifically designed for telemedicine appointments (i.e., it’s usually not just a FaceTime call) to protect privacy.
So, when can you use telemedicine, and when is it better to see your doctor in person? After all, you definitely can’t use telemedicine to treat a broken bone. That said, you may be surprised at how many conditions telemedicine can help with.
In general, telemedicine is convenient for non-emergency health issues. For example, you wouldn’t use telemedicine if you’re having an allergic reaction from accidentally eating nuts, but you might if you’re struggling with symptoms of seasonal allergies.
Here are types of things a healthcare provider may be able to help you with via telemedicine:
Skin concerns like acne, rashes, or concerning moles
Mild or chronic gastrointestinal concerns like acid reflux or abdominal pain
Non-emergency respiratory issues like asthma, allergies, or chronic cough maintenance
Minor injuries like an infected cut
Mental health care like therapy or psychiatry appointments
In many cases, your telemedicine appointment may be the first step in getting a diagnosis or treatment. After the appointment, your doctor may have you come in for an in-person visit so they can perform tests or obtain bloodwork, for example.
Of course, you should always go to the emergency room for issues that could be life-threatening. Telemedicine is not appropriate for these issues.
Additionally, telemedicine is not appropriate for services that require more than visual observations and discussion. For example, you’ll need to schedule an in-person visit for vaccinations, bloodwork, or X-rays and other scans. Your doctor may also need to do a more thorough physical examination to help you, such as listening to your heart or lungs.
Currently, health insurance has coverage for telemedicine—a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Medicaid and Medicare provide coverage for various telehealth and telemedicine services. However, there is no standard for private providers.
Some states require insurance companies to pay the same amount for telemedicine as an in-person visit. Other states may not, so it’s best to check with your health insurance provider for clarity, especially since coverage of telemedicine is changing at a rapid pace.
If you already have a primary care doctor or mental health professional, you usually still see them—as long as they offer telemedicine services.
If you don’t have a provider, check with your hospital or healthcare facility to see what services they offer and who is available for telemedicine appointments. They can help you find the right fit for you.
Psst … remember that telemedicine is only one component of the telehealth umbrella. Learn more about all telehealth has to offer here.