If you’re living with high cholesterol, you can get some treatment from a healthcare professional online. This may be called telehealth or telemedicine depending on what type of care you receive.

Here’s what you need to know about when telehealth might work for you and when you may have to see your doctor in person to manage high cholesterol.

Telehealth is the use of technology to deliver health services from a distance. It includes nonclinical services, such as providing educational materials.

Telemedicine is a specific type of telehealth that uses technology to deliver healthcare at a distance.

It involves interactions between a healthcare professional and patient. For example, a doctor may use telemedicine to diagnose and treat a condition.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists many different forms of telehealth that occur between healthcare professionals and patients.

These include:

  • web-based applications
  • interactive content
  • live or asynchronous videoconferencing
  • remote patient monitoring
  • mHealth (use of mobile devices)
  • telephone calls

Many people are familiar with using videoconferencing or phone calls to consult with a care provider virtually.

Other ways people and their doctors can communicate include:

  • email messages
  • text messages
  • mobile apps
  • websites

Telehealth isn’t a last resort option. Instead, it’s becoming a mainstream choice for optimal treatment.

The CDC’s Community Preventive Services Task Force (CPSTF) recommends using telehealth to reduce risk factors for chronic disease, including in people living with cardiovascular disease.

Regular telehealth appointments with your doctor can help you to manage your cholesterol levels and reduce cardiovascular disease risk.

A 2016 study of people at high risk for cardiovascular disease found that compared with in-person treatment alone, telehealth monitoring combined with in-office care led to slight improvements in:

  • diet
  • exercise
  • medication use
  • satisfaction with medical care

Virtual visits may have some advantages over in-office appointments.

For example, it’s easier to connect with your doctor more often when you schedule appointments via telehealth. Paired with frequent self-monitoring, the extra support can help you keep your treatment plan on track.

Other advantages include:

  • You can schedule appointments on short notice.
  • No transportation is required.
  • You don’t have to spend time in a waiting room with other potentially sick patients.
  • Visits are shorter and more focused.
  • Your insurer may charge a lower copay.
  • You may have records about your medications and supplements on hand, instead of having to rely on your memory.

The focus of telehealth has been on fulfilling the following goals of high cholesterol treatment:

  • helping patients make lifestyle changes (such as diet, exercise, weight loss, and smoking cessation)
  • assessing current treatment (efficacy, tolerability, affordability)
  • discussing treatment goals (for example to decrease LDL cholesterol or triglycerides, control diabetes, lose weight, or increase physical activity)

A doctor may use telehealth for patients with high cholesterol to:

  • offer counseling on lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol (diet, exercise, weight loss)
  • review prescription medications, herbal remedies, and supplements
  • assess how well medication is working
  • discuss treatment options
  • evaluate at-home monitoring of cholesterol levels and other metrics
  • refill prescriptions
  • review lab results
  • discuss the risks of elevated cholesterol and triglycerides

Many of your options depend on the technology your clinic uses. Other readily available apps can help you to manage your cholesterol, such as:

  • MyTherapyApp, which helps you program medication reminders, keep medication inventory, and track your lipid levels
  • MyFitnessPal, which helps you track your eating and exercise

Regardless of your comfort level with technology, there’s likely an app that can help you on the road to better heart health.

Sometimes an in-person visit is necessary. For example, your doctor may want to perform a physical exam if you have xanthomas or other symptoms that are hard to assess remotely.

Anyone with high cholesterol should see a doctor in person if they notice:

  • chest pain or pressure
  • leg pain after walking
  • numbness or weakness in one side of the body
  • loss of vision in one eye
  • abdominal pain after eating

If you experience heart attack symptoms, call 911.

There may be other reasons to go to a clinic or hospital. Call your doctor’s office or 911 and follow their advice about how best to connect with a healthcare professional.

Telehealth refers to using technology to provide health services. It includes telemedicine, or connecting with a health professional to access healthcare.

Telehealth can help you to manage your cholesterol levels and heart health. Videoconferencing, mobile apps, text messages, emails, and phone calls are all examples of telehealth options.

Technology can enhance your care by:

  • giving you more access to healthcare professionals
  • increasing the availability of accurate information
  • ensuring you understand and are able to stick to your treatment plan