Due to the continuing effects of covid-19, many doctors and health care providers are moving more toward telehealth and telemedicine. To address this, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and many commercial health insurance plans have waived their previous telehealth requirements.
Being paired with telehealth is a push for more real-time patient information to make sure patients are keeping up with follow-up appointments.
It’s a new way of doing things, not just for patients but also for providers.
As providers try to get their patients more comfortable with telehealth and the integration of technology into medicine, the following are things they should let them know.
Telehealth vs. Telemedicine
Telehealth and telemedicine are often used interchangeably, but there are differences in the two. The World Health Organization describes telemedicine as healing from a distance, but telehealth is more specifically focused on the use of electronic information and technology to promote clinical health care, public health, health administration, and patient education.
When Can Telehealth Be Used?
While it can’t be used in every situation, there are some cases when telehealth works well for patients and providers. These situations include:
- The management of chronic illnesses. Millions of Americans have chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Managing them can mean that they need to see their doctor frequently for check-ins, but telehealth can be a more convenient way to do so for doctors and patients. When someone is experiencing something “out-of-whack” with the management of their disease, their physician can potentially intervene faster with telehealth.
- Medication management. Among seniors, in particular, medication management is important but often forgotten without regular check-ins with healthcare providers. When using telehealth as part of medication management it can cut down on hospital admissions and complications.
- Sharing of medical information. Using telemedicine, providers can share medical information with one another without barriers and in real-time.
- Emergency room diversion. This is a big topic right now, as many ERs are trying to save space for covid-19 patients and prevent possible exposure in hospital settings. Telehealth can be used as a way to help people know when they should visit an ER or when their situation doesn’t necessitate that.
- Remote patients. There are many patients who live far from a healthcare provider, but telehealth can help improve their outcomes.
Preparing for a Telehealth Appointment
The following are things to do to prepare for your first telehealth appointment:
- Speak with your insurance company before your telehealth appointment to make sure your clear on what’s covered and any copays you may be responsible for. Many insurance companies are required to cover telehealth during the pandemic, and similarly, Medicare has expanded its coverage, but that doesn’t mean all companies will cover it. Even if your telehealth is covered, you may still be responsible for a copay.
- Make notes of what you want to talk to your doctor about ahead of time. For example, if you have any particular symptoms, write them down. If applicable, write down your pre-existing conditions and medications as well.
- Similarly, write down questions you may have and have a place to take notes during your appointment.
- When you make your appointment, let the office know what you’re going to be using. For example, are you going to be using your iPhone or a laptop? They may have tips for you.
- If you’re using a health portal for your appointment, practice logging in ahead of your appointment and try to have your login information stored if possible.
- When your doctor gives you instructions for following-up, write those down as well. Your follow-up may be in-person, depending on your situation.
If you aren’t comfortable with technology, have a friend or family member help you set up what you need before your appointment.
There are a lot of great benefits that come with telemedicine to be aware of, including the potential to have greater overall access to healthcare. This access can include specialists that might not be in your area or that you’d have to wait many months to get an in-person appointment with.
Plus, if you’re nervous about coronavirus or it’s just not convenient for you to regularly visit a doctor’s office, you can still manage your healthcare with regular tele-visits.
Many doctors and health care providers of all types are now offering telehealth. If you aren’t sure if it’s available with your care providers, call, and they can likely help you set up an appointment. Just remember, it’s not a replacement for in-person care—it’s a supplement.