Technology has made seeking medical care more accessible than ever before. Thanks to the rise in telemedicine, patients can connect with physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals from the comfort and privacy of their homes using smartphones or computers.
While telehealth services were in their infancy just a few short years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic spurred significant growth in this up-and-coming sector of the healthcare industry. And with favorable patient responses and explosive financial growth, telemedicine definitely will not be going away.
Telemedicine is an excellent alternative to traditional in-person doctor visits in many situations. It’s fast, convenient and often more affordable than seeing a doctor face-to-face. Still, many patients and even some healthcare workers aren’t quite sure how telemedicine works or what to expect when entering the telehealth world. So, how does telemedicine work? Whether you’re a nurse and spend your days working in women’s slim fit scrub pants or a patient seeking alternative care, let’s take a closer look and uncover a few things you should know.
What Is Telemedicine?
“Telemedicine” is an umbrella term encompassing several methods for healthcare professionals and patients to communicate and discuss care without being in the same room. It’s also commonly referred to as telehealth, e-health, digital medicine and m-health.
Telemedicine services involve video chats, phone calls, emails and even text messages. Using technology and the internet, physicians can speak with patients, assess their symptoms and provide appropriate treatment, all without ever meeting in person.
Of course, telehealth isn’t appropriate in all situations. While not appropriate for emergencies, it is ideal for diagnosing health issues like sore throats, headaches, digestive troubles and other common ailments. It’s also an invaluable tool for follow-up appointments and inquiries relating to at-home treatments. It is an excellent option for prescription medication management and refills in certain cases too.
These services are especially convenient for those residing in rural areas with limited access to healthcare. Telemedicine eliminates the need to travel great distances to see a doctor. It also provides a reliable option for nights, weekends and holidays when seeking regular medical care is not an option.
Plus, taking advantage of telemedicine means not having to travel to a doctor’s office while sick or during inclement weather. These services are also highly beneficial for people who have trouble getting to appointments due to mobility issues or lack of transportation.
How It Works
Using telemedicine services is easy — even if you aren’t technologically savvy. The exact process varies depending on the provider and other factors but, generally, it involves requesting an appointment and then meeting with the doctor either on a phone call or video chat. Some healthcare providers also have patient portals in which you can send and receive emails from your healthcare team, request prescription refills, review test results and schedule appointments for remote or in-person services.
During the appointment, the doctor asks questions about the patient’s current symptoms and medical history. They do not ask the patient to disrobe but may request photos if the patient has any visible findings or areas of concern, such as a tick bite. The doctor may also ask for results of at-home blood pressure readings and other basic diagnostic information, such as weight or temperature.
The remote visit yields enough information for the doctor to prescribe treatment in many cases. However, they sometimes need to refer the patient for an in-person appointment for further diagnostics and/or treatment. Before the end of the appointment, the doctor should inquire whether the patient has any questions or concerns. Generally speaking, a telehealth visit should feel similar to meeting with a physician face-to-face. The appointment should end with a precise treatment plan and information regarding the next steps.
Benefits of Telemedicine
Telemedicine offers numerous benefits for patients. Consider the following perks if you are on the fence about whether to schedule your next appointment online:
With telehealth, you don’t need to waste time driving to and from your doctor’s office. You might not even need to take time off work. Many telehealth providers offer appointments outside of regular business hours, making it easier for patients to get the care they need.
Getting treatment for common minor ailments is more convenient with telemedicine. Instead of dedicating several hours to seeing a doctor in person, you can describe your symptoms on a video or phone call and have appropriate medication sent to your pharmacy right away. While this doesn’t work for every situation, it’s an excellent option for sinus infections, allergies, urinary tract infections, headaches, coughs and other common health concerns.
Healthcare isn’t cheap, but telehealth often offers an affordable alternative to in-person care. Both patients and healthcare professionals save money with telemedicine. Physicians have fewer overhead expenses and don’t lose money on no-shows and last-minute cancellations. And patients typically pay less for telemedicine services than for in-office appointments. In many cases, remote visits are covered by insurance, just like regular office visits. However, even uninsured patients save because cash-only telemedicine services are generally cheaper than urgent care clinics.
Saving time goes hand-in-hand with convenience, but it’s still worth mentioning. With traditional medicine, people with chronic conditions tend to spend a lot of time in doctors’ offices. Things like renewing prescriptions and going over test results don’t need to be done in person, though. Telemedicine allows people with chronic patients to save the commute and get the care they need from home.
Telemedicine has revolutionized the healthcare industry, and it’s here to stay. While it will never replace in-person care for emergencies, surgeries and serious illnesses/injuries, it is an excellent option for keeping up with minor healthcare needs. It offers numerous benefits for patients and providers, and it’s likely to be a part of your job at some point if you work in healthcare. The next time you put on your scrub dress for work, you could be meeting with a patient via video instead of in person!