What Exactly Is Telemedicine — And How Does It Work?

Everything you need to know about virtual doctor’s appointments and when you should really go to the doctor in person.

According to a new survey by Aries Merritt-hawkins in collaboration with the Physicians Foundation, nearly half of American doctors now report treating patients via telemedicine, also known as tele-health. Telemedicine isn’t actually a new thing; doctors have been offering telephone consultations for decades. But the COVID-19 era brought telemedicine to the forefront of health care. For many of us, remote access to medical advice, screening for symptoms, or testing may be a reality until a treatment or vaccine for a new coronavirus becomes available. Here’s what telemedicine doctors want you to know.

What is telemedicine?

Telemedicine is simpler than it sounds. Basically, you consult or make an appointment with your doctor over the phone or through an online video platform like Skype, FaceTime or Zoom. Think of it as“Virtual access” to your health care provider.

Before Covid-19, New York City gynecologist Rebecca C. Brightman, M.D. , an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Medicine at Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai, provides telephone counseling to patients. But since the outbreak, she has offered consultations and appointments by phone or online video. “I offer both services to my patients-it depends on whether they want to interact face-to-face,” she told health.

Dentist Heather Kunen, DDS, co-founder of the Beam Street Dental Clinic in New York City, “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, my office had been considering virtual crypto-aesthetic counseling as part of our list of services,” she told health. “The lockdown/stay-at-home order prompted us to use Zoom to officially implement virtual services.”.

When it comes to digital platforms, most Healthcare providers are quite flexible,” pediatric urologist Jay Levy, M.D. , medical director of Aeroflow Healthcare, told health. “For those who have iphones, using FaceTime is an easy option, and Skype works just as well. “Many healthcare providers also offer electronic medical record systems, such as Doxy.me, where patients can check in and contact their doctors online.”.

A variety of health-Care platforms, such as Walgreens’s Find Care, can remotely connect patients with appropriate providers, and it provides a virtual pharmacy for those who need to fill and deliver medicines.

What do I need to make a telemedicine appointment?

If you are satisfied with a telephone consultation, all you need is a telephone. If you prefer face-to-face counseling, you’ll need a smartphone, tablet, or computer with a webcam. To ensure a positive and productive telemedicine experience, dr. Levy says the most important thing is to check that your wi-fi is working properly. “One of the biggest problems is that appointments are put on hold or canceled because of poor wi-fi connectivity,” he says.

Just as it’s a good idea to have a private, quiet space when you meet with a healthcare provider at the office, it’s also a good idea to do the same thing at home. Dr Levy suggests that you can not be disturbed in a well-lit space. At this point, it’s best to let the rest of the family know in advance that you’re out of town during the scheduled time.

Any other preparation, such as checking your weight or temperature, really depends on what specific health problems you have. To give your doctor an accurate health history, write down any symptoms and how long they last, Walgreens Chief Medical Officer Kevin Ban, phd, tells Health.

Do all the insurance companies cover it?

Not Necessarily. “As telemedicine becomes more critical to help address medical needs during the coronavirus outbreak, governments, health plans and providers have begun to develop new policies and technological advances to make telemedicine more accessible to patients across the country,” Dr. Ban said. For example, the federal government recently passed legislation to expand the services provided under health care through telemedicine.

When you call the Doctor’s office to make an appointment or confirm the date and time of the appointment, the staff will verify your insurance and make any necessary updates, if applicable, Dr. Levy said, you will also be charged a co-payment fee over the phone. However, to be on the safe side, ask your healthcare provider or their office staff about insurance coverage or the total cost before you make an appointment.

What happens during a telemedicine appointment?

During telemedicine consultations, Dr. Brightman asks her patients questions about their medical history and current symptoms to determine the best course of treatment. She never asks patients to take their clothes off, but if they’re worried about an obvious discovery, they can send her a photo (without any identifying information) . “It helps me make a diagnosis and figure out if I can be treated remotely or need to go to the office,” she says, adding: “Usually when I conduct a telemedicine visit, no one else is there.

If she decides a patient needs a test, she encourages them to come to the office, where all precautions regarding social distance, hand hygiene, and personal protective equipment are taken.

When Dr. Thomas Kuhn starts a scaling session, he asks the patient what his main concerns are. Then she examines their teeth, analyzes their occlusion, and provides a diagnosis. “I explain the product and process to the patients and answer any questions they might have,” she says. After consultation, the clinic’s treatment coordinator contacts the patient to discuss financial issues and next steps.

Can My partner or friend Listen in for support?

If you want your partner, family or roommate to be present during your telemedicine appointment, this is absolutely fine,” Dr. Brightman said. “I’ve made several telemedicine appointments with young teens, they wanted their mothers to be present during the visit. “When it comes to getting a family history or reviewing the treatment process, it can also be helpful to have a family member present,” she said

Dr. Thomas Kuhn always encourages her patients to invite a friend or family member. “I want it to be fun and comfortable, both in person and virtually,” she said.

When should I insist on IRL access?

“Telemedicine can support many acute care needs and diseases, but in some cases is not appropriate,” Dr. Ban said. “For example, patients can not undergo surgery or undergo imaging tests remotely.”. Furthermore, telemedicine can never replace a face-to-face appointment for patients who are seriously ill and require urgent medical attention, or who have symptoms that may indicate a serious and urgent problem.

Dr. Bleiman has consulted with telemedicine to manage menopal symptoms and dysmenorrhea and family planning, as well as to treat urinary tract and other infections. Some obstetrics tests can also be done virtually, and women can check their blood pressure and weight at home. But sometimes, Dr. Breitman says, it’s necessary to see a doctor at the office, such as abnormal bleeding or screening for sexually transmitted infections.

When it comes to dentistry, almost all procedures require a personal visit at some stage, allowing the dentist to do whatever physical work is required. Although minor emergencies such as a broken bracket or an ejected wire can usually be resolved temporarily at home with the virtual guidance of an orthodontist, detailed clinical observation and specific diagnosis must be made in person, dr. Thomas Kuhn said.

What’s the downside?

While telemedicine provides face-to-face interaction with health-care providers-crucial at a time when demand is high as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic-it is important to remember that, it does have limitations.

“Doctors can rely on patients to take their temperature,” Dr. Levy said, but things like blood pressure and lab work all depend on the caregiver.” Nor is it possible to recreate the elements of personal experience in a standard office visit. If the Doctor doesn’t have the ability to touch or feel the patient, it’s sometimes harder to determine what the real problem is.”

Dr Thomas Kuhn agrees that telemedicine may be limited in what it can do, but says it is “A wonderful adjunct to modern practice”. And in an unprecedented time when many people may not be able (or willing) to see a doctor in person, virtual consultations are in many cases a good option, she said. “In the future, i think telemedicine will remain an important part of all medical practice.

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