The advent of the coronavirus has raised genuine concerns about attending clinics in person, but there has also been a lot of uncertainty over what telehealth actually is and what it can do for you.
That being said, telehealth is on the rise in the US and is a simple, convenient way for patients to discuss their concerns with their personal doctor.
Below are several common questions on the topic of virtual care with answers designed to inform you as to what virtual care is and what it can do for you.
Q: What does ‘virtual care’ and ‘telehealth’ actually mean?
A: This terminology refers to the method of talking to a doctor online using web conferencing software, which you can access using any desktop, laptop or tablet/smart phone. If your healthcare provider has emailed you with an update saying they now offer live telehealth visits, it means you can now chat online with your personal doctor instead of visiting him or her face to face.
Q: What equipment or technology do I need?
A: In order to be able to talk to a doctor online, you will need a computer device with an integrated camera and microphone. Most laptops, tablets and smart phones are automatically equipped with these.
You will also need to stream video, so a decent internet connection is essential. If you have wifi and have ever used FaceTime or Skype, you should be ready to go.
If you don’t have a computer or tablet or have access to decent wifi, it may be worth telephoning your healthcare provider and discussing your options. They may be able to accommodate you in different ways during this pandemic other than needing you to physically present yourself at the clinic, such as lending you a tablet while you sit in your car in the parking lot.
Q: I’m not good with computers. Will I be able to do a virtual visit?
A: Yes, you will. Most families have been using FaceTime, Skype or Zoom to keep in touch with relatives or loved ones during the pandemic, and if you can use one of these systems, you will be able to use the one your provider is using.
In most cases, your online doctor will email you a link. Simply click on the link and you will be taken to the relevant program to start the visit. It’s as simple as that.
Q: How can a doctor diagnose me if I’m not physically there?
A: For a lot of conditions, your personal doctor doesn’t need to do a physical exam to diagnose you. If they know your medical history, which is usually accessible through your secure patient portal account, they will be able to make informed decisions in your best interests.
Furthermore, you will also be able to upload photographs and show the doctor your physical symptoms using the camera on your computer, so the doctor will be able to use these images to support their diagnosis. They may also ask you to perform small actions, such as coughing, while they observe your bodily reaction.
Q: Is telemedicine commonplace?
A: Yes, more so than ever before. In 2019, just 11% of Americans booked virtual visits; in 2020, that figure has reached 46%. Providers are holding 50 to 175 times the number of virtual visits they did before COVID-19. The face of healthcare is changing as a result of the coronavirus, and providers are adapting to this new world, which has significant advantages for all patients.
Q: How do I book a telehealth visit?
A: Check your healthcare provider’s website or telephone them to obtain more details about your provider’s telehealth schedule and how you can arrange a visit.
If they do not offer telehealth visits, you can always subscribe to a virtual visit software to connect with a provider from the safety of your own home. You can then share any visit notes and prescriptions with your current doctor afterwards. These platforms can either help patients without primary care doctors to connect and speak with one whenever they need to, or act as an extension to a patient’s current care team.
Q: Can I get the prescriptions I need using telemedicine?
A: Yes, you can. Assuming your doctor doesn’t need to perform a physical examination, they can provide you with the prescription you need online.
And for those patients who just need a refill for a pre-existing condition, they can request this simply and quickly from their online patient portal. The prescription will be sent directly to the patient’s preferred pharmacy.
Q: Is virtual care more expensive?
A: Not at all. On the contrary, a virtual visit is roughly half the price of an in-office visit, and with Medicare and Medicaid providing reimbursement during the coronavirus pandemic and private insurers covering costs, a virtual visit is incredibly affordable. However, you should always check with your private insurer before arranging a visit to see just how much of the visit is covered.
If your symptoms are mild, it is most likely cheaper, safer and more convenient to arrange a virtual visit instead of a physical one.