Telemedicine allows you to discuss medical issues with a doctor by phone or online at a time that’s convenient for you. It simplifies the process of receiving treatment for many common ailments and can be a good option for people with limited time, healthcare options, or other accessibility issues.
Telemedicine often provides lower pricing for services and can be a cost-effective way for people who do not have insurance or people with insurance that does not cover certain costs to get care.
Though telemedicine can be beneficial for a number of reasons, it should not replace in-person doctor visits.
It’s important to keep in mind that telemedicine healthcare professionals are unable to take your blood or urine samples, heart rate, blood pressure, or other important medical tests. For example, with the lack of physical touch in telemedicine, the results of a physical exam could be greatly affected.
Telemedicine allows people to get healthcare services digitally using a computer or smartphone app. Many services offer a choice of audio and video call, email, and chat communications.
Telemedicine allows people to access physicians for certain purposes, such as refilling a prescription or sharing preliminary information, checking symptoms, or bringing up concerns about a health issue that does not require a physical examination.
Telemedicine should not be used in place of an in-person doctor visit. Instead, services can be used to:
assess when an in-person visit is necessary
prescribe and refill certain medications
treat minor medical conditions
provide mental health services
Attending an appointment virtually, either at your home or office, can make access to health care easier for people with hectic work and family schedules.
Plus, it’s a great option for people who may not otherwise have access to certain physicians or who cannot afford the price of standard medical visits. Many telemedicine services accept insurance plans from major providers, but one benefit of telemedicine is that most services are made to be cost-effective for people who do not have insurance.
Additionally, people who are immunocompromised or who have underlying health conditions could be at greater risk when in a doctor’s office. Physical barriers to access that may exist for people with disabilities are also eliminated with telemedicine.
That said, telemedicine is not accessible to people without computer or smartphone access or a reliable internet connection. While telemedicine makes appointments easier and more mobile, be careful not to take your appointment in public places, as privacy could be an issue.
The best telemedicine service for you can vary based on your needs, price point, and level of urgency.
With so many options to choose from, you might not know where to begin. Pinpoint what features of a telemedicine service are most important to you, then focus on the services that offer these.
Some telehealth services offer a lot of choice in healthcare professionals and help you find the doctor who is best for you. Others focus on affordability or quick access to a care professional.
If you have a specific health condition or communication style preference, look into telemedicine companies that have experience with similar ailments or work the way you want.
Also, consider whether you’ll need labwork or prescriptions, and make sure the company or healthcare professional you’re considering can arrange for those.
Lastly, it’s important to consider your preferred payment method. You might need a company that can provide documentation for your health insurance reimbursement, or maybe you prefer to pay by debit. Find out in advance if the company you choose can accommodate different payment options.
Both telemedicine and telehealth refer to services offered via phone or video. However, there is a difference between the two.
Telemedicine specifically refers to digital clinical healthcare services, where you connect with a licensed healthcare professional or team for care.
Telehealth is broader and includes nonclinical health services. Telehealth can include services such as training for healthcare professionals and medical education, as well as other nonclinical services and information.
Though there are slight differences between telemedicine and telehealth, the two terms are often used interchangeably.
Telehealth has grown in recent years, fueled by demand and an increasingly high-tech healthcare landscape. It can solve many issues for people who want easier access to healthcare and for healthcare professionals trying to meet demand. That said, annual checkups with a primary care doctor and emergency care are a part of in-person needs.
If you’re looking to save money on healthcare expenses or you do not have health insurance, low-cost and free health services are available.
For example, the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Find a Health Center offers a directory of health clinics that operate on a sliding scale. If you do not have insurance or are unable to pay, you can still get care.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a confidential, free service for anyone needing assistance regarding substance and mental health concerns. Some of the telehealth services mentioned above can be free with insurance, such as Teladoc and LiveHealth Online.
Teladoc Health is the largest telemedicine service, with $1.09 billion in revenue and more than 1,800 employees.
Who are the leaders in telemedicine?
Aside from Teladoc Health, the key leaders in telemedicine are Amwell, MDLIVE, and Doctor on Demand.
What is the difference between telemedicine and telehealth?
While telemedicine and telehealth both describe receiving services by phone or video, there is a difference between the two. Telemedicine describes when you connect with a licensed healthcare professional or team for care, and telehealth is a broader term that includes clinical and nonclinical services, such as education for healthcare professionals.
What does telemedicine exclude?
Telemedicine healthcare professionals cannot take blood or urine samples or blood pressure readings. They also can’t do a hands-on physical exam, which includes listening to the heart and lungs, examining the abdomen, and more. These services still must be done at a lab or an in-person doctor’s appointment.
Telemedicine makes it easier than ever to get medical treatment and information. It can also be a more affordable alternative for people without insurance.
Last medically reviewed on September 7, 2023
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