What Is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is becoming more and more popular, but what is telemedicine? Essentially, telemedicine refers to the ability of doctors and other healthcare providers to treat their patients through video calls or phone calls. This may involve the use of a computer or a smartphone. It can also be done from anywhere and anytime, making it ultra-convenient for many individuals and physicians alike.
But how does it compare to regular doctor visits? And how exactly does it work? Who is telemedicine most suitable for? Let’s find out.
Telemedicine vs Regular Doctor Visits
While virtual teleconferencing and medicine have come a long way, there are several arguments as to why telemedicine does not necessarily replace a regular doctor visit. The biggest drawback is the inability of the doctor to physically examine the patient. In many cases, this can be problematic. For instance, your doctor is unable to measure your blood pressure, check your breathing, or do any other kind of testing.
Ultimately, this leaves gaps in the telemedicine system. Telemedicine also requires a level of tech-savviness in order to begin the appointment in the first place. For some patients, this may pose some difficulties. Undeniably, there are some barriers to telemedicine. Yet, at the same time, there are so many benefits, which we explore in more detail below.
How Does Telemedicine Work?
Telemedicine has become a convenient way to see a healthcare provider, especially during a pandemic like COVID-19. Usually, telemedicine involves two different methods:
- The use of a patient portal. A portal is usually located on a specific website where you use your own login and password to access your messages between yourself and your healthcare provider. Usually, this method allows you to easily get prescriptions refilled, view lab or test results, and set up an appointment. This saves time for you and your doctor, saving appointments only for when they are necessary.
- A virtual appointment. Virtual appointments are similar to regular appointments, except they are conducted via a phone call or video conference call. This particular method has worked really well in the mental health field and has begun to be used more by doctors and specialists too.
It’s also wise to check your insurance plan to ensure you are covered for telemedicine. This may vary from plan to plan or from insurance company to insurance company. Thus, make sure you check before scheduling a telemedicine appointment.
The Pros and Cons of Telemedicine
So, what exactly are the pros and cons? What advantages and disadvantages should you weigh when considering it?
- It’s convenient and accessible. For patients with long commutes or with the inability to drive themselves to appointments, it offers an easy alternative. A telemedicine appointment takes place anywhere and anytime - even within the comfort of your own home.
- It may eliminate non-urgent ER visits. This saves the healthcare system money and prevents long waits in the emergency room, saving this type of care for those that truly need it.
- It may lead to improved patient care quality. A recent study showed that phone and video patients were less likely to experience depression, anxiety, or stress. This study also showed that these patients had 38% fewer hospital admissions.
- It may have un-regulatory policies. Since it is fairly new, regulations and policies regarding how it works, reimbursement and privacy protection are not exactly defined in every province or state.
- It has technological drawbacks. System outages may occur or internet outages may result in the inability to communicate with your healthcare professional.
- There are hurdles when it comes to proper physical examination. In some instances, it just does not make sense. If testing is required, this is impossible to do via a virtual video call or phone call. Typically, it is up to the doctor and patient to determine if telemedicine makes sense for the reasoning behind their appointment.
Who Should Use Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is a wonderful option for individuals where traveling to and from an appointment is inconvenient due to geographical or physical reasons. It also saves time for these patients. It’s further suitable for consultations that require no physical exam. Basically, any appointment where you are simply discussing results or options with your healthcare provider is a good scenario where telemedicine can be used.
But, when isn’t telemedicine the best option? Telemedicine should not be used for health emergency situations. It should also not be used when a physical examination or testing is necessary. All in all, it is usually up to the physician as to what method is best.
The good news? Either way, it is likely some of your appointments will be moving online or to a phone call. This saves time and money for both healthcare providers and patients. Undeniably, technology is changing the way we live; in many ways, this provides many individuals with accessibility to appointments or information that they would not have had before.