You’re sick. Now what? Should you call your doctor’s office, find the nearest urgent care center, or maybe use telemedicine? Scheduling a same-day appointment with your primary care physician can be difficult. Plus, depending on how badly you feel, you may not want to leave your bed, much less wait to be seen in a waiting room.
That’s why health insurers are beginning to offer telemedicine, which is a convenient way to get medical care right from your home — through your smartphone, tablet, or computer! If you’ve never used telemedicine, you may have questions like:
- What is telemedicine?
- What can telemedicine treat?
- Can I use health insurance for telemedicine?
Keep reading to learn how telemedicine is transforming health care and how you can get medical assistance anywhere, anytime.
What Is Telemedicine and How Does it Work?
Telemedicine is a type of health care service that allows patients to chat with physicians for medical treatment in real time. Doctors can diagnose conditions, discuss treatment options, and prescribe prescription medications through virtual video chats and phone calls.
Initially, telemedicine was created to provide care for patients who lived far from medical facilities or in areas with shortages of available physicians. Today, telemedicine still fulfills its original purpose of providing more accessible health care, but now, it’s becoming a popular way for everyone to get convenient medical assistance.
Telemedicine can be an excellent treatment option for common, minor health conditions, like:
- Cold and flu
- Sore throat
- Pink eye
- Animal or bug bites
- Urinary tract infections
- Minor allergic reactions
- Sprains and strains
- Earaches and ear infections
- Rash or other skin irritations
- Respiratory infections
- Sore throats
- Sprains and strains
Note that telemedicine isn’t appropriate for health emergencies, life-threatening conditions, or other situations that require in-person care. Serious health issues may require emergency room care, ambulance rides, or appointments with a primary care physician. Here are some examples of health conditions that should be treated in person:
- Heart attack
- Broken bones
- Poisoning or drug overdose
- Sudden changes in ability to see, talk, or move
- Sudden confusion or disorientation
- Sudden or severe pain
- Coughing or vomiting blood
- Severe burn
Now, how does telemedicine work? Here’s a step-by-step guide to paint a clearer picture of a typical telemedicine experience.
Step 1: The most common type of telemedicine is a virtual visit between a patient and physician. These live visits are HIPPAA-compliant and can take place through video software on a desktop or mobile device.
Step 2: Patients typically sign consent waivers before a telemedicine appointment.
Step 3: Patients explain their symptoms to the physicians, who can then diagnose the issue and offer medical advice and a treatment plan – just like they would during an in-person appointment.
Step 4: If the patient needs any prescriptions, the doctor can prescribe the medications and send them to the patient’s preferred pharmacy.
Step 5: The physician may suggest a follow-up appointment, which can also conveniently take place through another virtual visit.
Step 6: After your virtual visit is over, your health insurance will process the service and send you a medical bill, or cover the service, depending on your plan details.
What Are Some Advantages of Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is full of advantages. It’s accessible, efficient, and can even cut down on health care cost. Here’s an overview of some of the top benefits of using telemedicine for patients and providers.
1. Telemedicine improves access to medical care.
Finding a nearby provider when you have limited access to health care can be challenging. If you live in a remote rural area, you’re traveling on a road trip, or are far away from your city center, you may not always be near a medical center to get the treatment you need.
Also, think about people in third-world countries without access to quality health care, elderly patients who need to see their doctors but cannot drive, or anyone else with mobility issues. Telemedicine can help overcome these barriers by providing accessible health care across the globe, which can be an enormous relief worldwide.
2. Telemedicine is highly convenient.
One of the key benefits of telemedicine: convenience, is a critical reason it’s becoming so popular. In America’s fast-paced society, patients want efficient, convenient care with the hope of avoiding waiting rooms as much as possible. Studies show that 76% of patients care more about access to health care than having an in-person interaction with a physician, and only 16% would choose to go to the ER for minor conditions over telemedicine.
3. Telemedicine can reduce health care costs.
As of 2017, the United States spends over $2.9 trillion on health care each year. According to Health Leaders, telemedicine can cut down on this cost in several ways, like providing treatment for patients that would otherwise go to the emergency room.
Going to the ER for conditions that telemedicine can treat isn’t necessary. Plus, telemedicine can be much more affordable. A recent study shows other drops in health care costs by using telemedicine, such as:
- 38% decrease in hospital admissions
- 31% decrease in hospital re-admissions
- 63% of patients spent less time in hospital
4. Telemedicine enhances patient engagement.
Telemedicine makes it easier to stay in touch with your medical providers. Convenient follow-up appointments, easy access to ask medical questions, and more autonomy over your medical treatment are all reasons that patients love using telemedicine. Telemedicine can help you contact your provider more easily and frequently, which can also improve your relationship with your doctor.
5. Using Telemedicine with Health Insurance
Many health insurance plans offer access to telemedicine. Depending on the health care plan you have, you could pay for telemedicine in various ways. Some policies include telemedicine in their coverage, others may require an additional yearly fee, or some may have a fee for each virtual visit.
There are also ways to get telemedicine without health insurance through online services that offer 24/7 access to a virtual doctor. Patients typically have a monthly fee or yearly subscription for these services, and they’re not billed through insurance.
Did you know that short-term health insurance can include benefits for telemedicine? If you purchase a short-term health plan through Vera Health, you’ll receive Telemedicine services through your LIFE Association membership. Telemed for LIFE allows you to connect with doctors via phone or video chat to treat common health ailments and discuss treatment advice. It’s available at no additional cost and offers unlimited sessions 24 hours a week, seven days a week!