Telemedicine is the ability of healthcare providers to meet with patients remotely via telephone or video.
This practice has been around almost as long as telephones but has become more popular and practical during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Improvements in technology and changes to insurance reimbursement rulings have helped increase the acceptance of telemedicine. Without it, doctors and therapists wouldn’t be able to connect with patients as easily, especially during the pandemic.
As telemedicine has become widespread, professionals and patients have grown more comfortable connecting virtually.
Telemedicine isn’t meant to take the place of face-to-face visits. While it does have some disadvantages, which we’ll get into later, its benefits are undeniable.
1. Easy access to specialists
Not everyone has an ongoing relationship with a doctor they can call when they need one. Many online medical networks offer round-the-clock access to all kinds of specialists, without an appointment, at any time of day or night.
2. Lower cost
Doctors and therapists can be expensive, even for people with good health insurance. Telemedicine appointments typically cost less than in-person visits do. This reduces out-of-pocket costs, removing a barrier to care.
3. Medical access for people without health insurance
Not having adequate health insurance can be an obstacle to seeing a doctor. Many online companies provide cash-pay telemedicine, which doesn’t require health insurance or referrals.
4. Medical access for people in rural areas
Country living has many benefits, but fast access to medical care isn’t always one of them. For people who live many miles from the nearest medical facility, telemedicine provides a way to meet with a doctor quickly.
This saves time and allows people to stay off the road when driving conditions are less than optimal, such as during a snowstorm or hailstorm.
5. Medical access for people in underserved urban areas
The trend of hospital closures in inner-city neighborhoods has affected thousands of Americans, especially communities of color and people without health insurance.
Telemedicine helps break this cycle by providing a way for people to see a doctor before they get extremely sick.
6. Reduced exposure to pathogens
Hours-long waits in doctors’ waiting rooms with other patients can contribute to the spread of COVID-19, the flu, and other viruses. Telehealth keeps patients at home, avoiding exposure to viruses and germs. This helps protect medical professionals as well.
7. Middle-of-the-night care for babies and children
Babies have a knack for spiking fevers or getting sick in the middle of the night. Rather than rely on an internet search, parents can use telehealth services to connect quickly with doctors who can give answers and provide a diagnosis, and even a prescription, when needed.
8. No need for childcare
Parents get sick, too, and it can be challenging to take little ones along to a doctor’s visit. Telehealth eliminates this need, as well as the additional cost of childcare.
9. Doctors get to stay home too
During the pandemic, many medical offices have closed or reduced their hours. Cybersecurity tools such as virtual private networks have enabled doctors and therapists to treat patients safely from their home offices. This access also allows doctors and patients to connect after hours and on weekends.
10. Reduced medical overhead costs
For doctors, telemedicine helps lower office costs, such as the need for front desk help.
11. Insurance reimbursement
Medicare and many private health insurance companies now allow doctors and therapists to bill for telehealth services, no matter where the patient or provider is located.
However, since state laws and insurance plans vary, be sure to check your policy’s requirements and restrictions before seeing a doctor remotely.
12. Support for people with chronic conditions
At-home monitoring tools that transmit readings to medical professionals can signal new symptoms, worsening health, and potential emergencies. This can help people get fast interventions, which may be lifesaving.
13. Online psychiatric support
COVID-19 has made it difficult for many people to see therapists face-to-face. Telemedicine has allowed therapeutic care to start or continue for people experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
14. Emergency psychiatric care
People experiencing mental health emergencies, including those who are at risk for self-harm, can quickly connect with a therapist or psychiatrist at any time of the day or night.
15. Peer-to-peer support
Online therapist-led support groups have brought together people who are coping with challenges such as bereavement or infertility.
16. Reduced anxiety
Many people simply don’t like to go to the doctor. In some cases, phobias such as agoraphobia may prevent people from seeking care. Telehealth provides a way to ask questions and access medical support without leaving home.
17. Physical therapy at home
For people undergoing physical therapy, telemedicine allows physical therapists to supervise and view exercises and therapies done with supports in the home. This can help people recuperate from accidents and surgeries more quickly.
Telemedicine isn’t perfect and doesn’t eliminate the need for other types of healthcare, such as emergency care, which requires a hospital or urgent care facility.
Disadvantages of telehealth:
- Telemedicine doesn’t allow doctors to take blood or urine samples. For people with chronic conditions who take medications, this can hamper necessary changes to dosages. It also may prolong the time before a new diagnosis is made.
- Doctors can’t use a stethoscope to listen to your heart or breathing, take your blood pressure, or take other vitals.
- Doctors also rely on visual assessments, which may be harder to perform virtually.
- Other tests, such as mammograms, Pap smears, sonograms, and eye pressure exams for glaucoma, must be done in person.
- Children who receive services such as speech therapy may have trouble concentrating or working with their therapists remotely.
- Insurance coverage or reimbursement is not guaranteed and varies from state to state.
Doctors and specialists of all kinds can use telemedicine for ongoing treatment or for making initial diagnoses. In some cases, a telehealth appointment might be used to determine if in-person care should follow.
Medical professionals who effectively use telemedicine include:
- mental health practitioners
- reproductive endocrinologists
- general practitioners
A quick internet search can uncover telemedicine companies where you can book an appointment.
If you have health insurance, your provider may have a list of approved telemedicine practitioners on its website.
You can also use the Healthline Find Care tool to locate and identify practitioners in your area.
Telemedicine has been used for decades, but it has become more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. Telemedicine doesn’t take the place of in-person appointments, but it can be an important addition to patient care.