Nervous to Try Telehealth? Here’s What You Need to Know About Seeing Doctors Online
Over the last few years, many in-person experiences have shifted to online. Work meetings, classrooms, and even doctor visits can take place virtually. That last one, seeing a doctor online with your computer versus in person, may make you nervous. Your apprehension is understandable. After all, online telehealth is relatively new to all of us. A recent AARP study found that 32% of surveyed Americans over 50 said they are interested in using telehealth services for themselves or a loved one. Further figures from the study showed that 51% of adults 50 years and older report they or a family member actually used telehealth during the last two years.
As we know, lack of information is what drives fear. The best way to move from fearing new technology is to learn about it, its advantages, and what you can expect from a telehealth visit.
What Is Telehealth?
Telehealth is defined as the use of telecommunication technologies and digital information to provide health care services to patients. It is also known as virtual healthcare or telemedicine. Is there a difference between virtual healthcare, telehealth, and telemedicine? While people use these terms interchangeably, they are different.
- Virtual healthcare comprises the interactions between a patient and their physician that don’t take place in person.
- Telemedicine refers to only remote clinical services, where a provider interacts with patients over some digital format (video chat or a web-based platform, for example).
- Telehealth is all-encompassing and includes clinical services (such as a radiologist reading X-rays via digital channel), plus non-clinical services like continuing medical education and provider training.
Advantages of Telemedicine
Benefits of telemedicine visits include:
- Getting healthcare regardless of your location
- Less travel and time away from work
- Less time waiting for an appointment
- Eliminates waiting in the doctor’s lobby
- Accessing specialists not local to your area
- Convenient way to receive test results
What types of care can you receive through telemedicine? You can see a doctor online for a host of issues like:
- Wellness visits
- Mental health
- Urgent conditions such as urinary tract infections, sinusitis, colds, ear aches, rashes, etc.
Telemedicine laws are governed at the state level, so what we explain here applies to the typical telemedicine setting. Some state laws, for example, restrict what providers can bill for telehealth visits. The National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) has a tracking site for state telehealth policies. As more providers and patients are demanding telehealth and virtual visits, states are adapting laws.
Limitations of Telemedicine
While there are several advantages of telemedicine in healthcare, there are also some disadvantages of telemedicine. One of the main problems with virtual visits is if you see a doctor other than your regular provider, they may not have your complete medical history. Other shortcomings of the technology include:
- Your health issue may require an additional in-person examination or lab work
- Risk of technological trouble, for example, a lost connection or software glitch
- Some health plans do not cover virtual visits
What to Expect at a Telehealth Visit
Before telemedicine visits, there are a few things you should do in preparation.
- Ensure you have a device like a desktop, laptop, tablet, or mobile phone with internet service.
- Find a private, quiet place to hold your visit.
- Have a notepad, so you can take notes.
- Have information for allergies, medications, test results, hospitalizations, etc.
- Have any monitoring tools or devices you use for a chronic condition nearby, so you can show the doctor if requested.
- Wear loose clothing if you need to show the doctor a specific part of your body or skin area.
- You might also want to take a photo or video of whatever you’d like to show the online telehealth provider.
What’s a televisit like? If you’ve scheduled your visit, you’ll receive instructions on accessing the provider’s system.
- For unscheduled visits, you will typically connect via a website.
- After you agree or consent to the telehealth services, you’ll talk to a doctor, similar to a traditional office visit.
- Inform the doctor if you’re having any technical difficulties.
- The physician will provide you with recommendations and may contact you via email with additional information. They will also tell you how you can contact them with any questions or concerns.
Worried about whether the connection for your telehealth visit is safe and secure? Telehealth technology uses encryption to protect your communications. In addition, your telehealth information, appointments, and messages are protected by HIPAA privacy laws, similar to in-person care. With that said, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself further and your personal information.
Only speak openly to a telehealth doctor about your health when you’re in a safe, private location. You can request to hold the appointment via text, chat, or email if you cannot find a private area for a video appointment. A few other tips to follow include:
- Be sure your wireless connection is password protected.
- Avoid using a shared device from anyone outside your home or family to access your telehealth services.
- Keep your device (computer, laptop, cellphone) updated with antivirus software.
- Don’t access telehealth services through public Wi-Fi.
Does Insurance Cover Telemedicine?
Do you need special insurance to cover telehealth? Private health care insurance providers are required to reimburse telemedicine in 42 states and the District of Columbia. Check the NCSL state telehealth tracking page for the most up-to-date information.
Does your insurance cover televisits? Many healthcare plans offer some telehealth care coverage, but your provider’s staff can check your insurance before your visit. You can use the Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP) Policy Finder tool for your state’s up-to-date regulations.
Future of Telehealth (Trends)
As more people embrace telehealth, making it easier to access the technology is at the forefront of telehealth trends. People with poor or no internet service, or those on a fixed income or that don’t have a personal computer or mobile device, may soon be able to consult with a physician at a low cost through a private kiosk at their local pharmacy or grocery store. Another telehealth trend surrounds the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), in which items like smart beds, ECG, and EKG monitors can exchange information via telemedicine apps to help clinicians monitor patients at home. Hospitals and clinics may also be able to consult with specialists remotely, if they have a patient that requires special care and don’t have a specialist on staff, using telehealth technology.