By Gina Roberts-Grey
When you’re feeling under the weather or have questions about your health, you usually schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. In after-hour situations, you may even head to an urgent care clinic. But as communication technology advances, your options for care are expanding. Through telemedicine services, you can receive medical advice anytime, anywhere, without leaving the comfort of your home.
The basics of telemedicine
Since the 1950s, healthcare providers have been offering remote services. This allows patients to receive healthcare without leaving their home, office, dorm room, hotel, or beyond. Telemedicine first began on landline telephones. With the advancement of technology, telemedicine has grown to offer services in a variety of ways. This includes online portals managed by your personal physician, video software that allows for remote consultations, and apps managed by companies offering telemedicine services like HeyDoctor by GoodRx.
Telemedicine allows you to discuss symptoms, medical issues, and more with a healthcare provider in real-time. Using telemedicine, you can receive a diagnosis, learn your treatment options, and get a prescription. In cases where it’s necessary, healthcare providers can even monitor readings from medical devices remotely to keep an eye on your condition.
There are three common types of telemedicine:
Interactive medicine: Also called “live telemedicine,” this is when physicians and patients communicate in real-time.
Remote patient monitoring: This allows caregivers to monitor patients who use mobile medical equipment to collect data on things like blood pressure, blood sugar levels, etc.
Store and forward: Providers can share a patient’s health information with other healthcare professionals or specialists.
The difference between telemedicine and telehealth
The terms telemedicine and telehealth sound the same, but they have a definite difference between them.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines telemedicine as “healing from a distance.” This gives you the freedom to receive treatment without needing to schedule an appointment with your physician or go to their office for medical services.
HealthIT.gov defines telehealth as “the utilization of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical healthcare, patient and professional health education, public health and health administration.” Telehealth is not a service. It is a way to improve patient care and physician education. Telehealth expands beyond telemedicine, to cover non-clinical events like appointment scheduling, continuing medical education, and physician training.
How does telemedicine work?
Telemedicine isn’t appropriate for emergency situations like heart attack or stroke, cuts or lacerations, or broken bones that require x-rays, splints, or casts. Anything that requires immediate, hands-on care should be handled in person. However, telemedicine is very useful for simple issues and follow-up consultations.
For instance, if you suspect that a cut may be infected, you can schedule a virtual consultation with your healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms. If you’re on vacation and think you’re coming down with strep throat, you can communicate with your primary care physician. If you need a birth control medication, you can chat through your needs and get a same-day prescription.
It’s helpful for a variety of other health issues including psychotherapy and teledermatology, which offers consultations of moles, rashes, etc. Colds and flu, insect bites, sore throats, diarrhea, and pink eye are some other common issues addressed using telemedicine.
The benefits of telemedicine
The need for more accessible healthcare is a driving force behind the growth of telemedicine. Whether a patient lives in a remote area or has a busy schedule that doesn’t allow time to visit a physician, telemedicine can help improve a person’s overall health and well-being.
But it can also help your financial health.
Access to a telemedicine provider can reduce the need to visit the emergency room. According to a 2017 study, the average telemedicine visit costs $79. The average doctor’s visit is $149 and the average trip to the emergency room is $1,734.
As the popularity of telemedicine grows, many health insurance plans are beginning to offer coverage for telemedicine visits. Some states have enacted laws that require health insurance plans to reimburse telemedicine visits at the same rate as in-person doctor visits. It’s best to check with your specific plan’s benefits before using telemedicine to understand your financial obligation.
Medicaid may also offer reimbursement for telemedicine services as long as they meet all federal requirements and eligibility.
Give it a try
Telemedicine may be a viable option the next time you come down with a case of the sniffles or need a consultation about the use of a certain medication. Check if your current provider offers telemedicine services that are covered under your insurance plan, or try a telemedicine option like HeyDoctor by GoodRx.