Feature post Self-Care Wellness

Telemedicine: Changing the Face of Doctor Visits

COVID-19 ushers in a new era of virtual medicine

Waiting to see a doctor in a crowded, potentially germ-infested waiting room, could soon become a thing of the past. Welcome to telemedicine. As social distancing becomes the norm, telemedicine is now in vogue.

Telemedicine isn’t new. It’s a subset of telehealth, which refers to health information and services. Doctors have used telemedicine for the last two decades, especially for mental health services. But until recently, most Americans shunned it. In fact a J.D. Power survey from 2019, found that only one in 10 Americans had tried it. Some people lacked internet access or technology to use it. Many people also preferred in-person appointments. But virtual visits might soon become preferable. Insurance coverage was another roadblock. While Medicare and Medicaid (depending on your state), now cover telemedicine, it’s a good idea to check first. Even if you have private health insurance, coverage varies. Private plans also might have an in-network, preferred service you’re encouraged to use.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of free telemedicine platforms have emerged to provide individuals in the US and around the world FREE consultation on health related issues. Here are a couple examples: 

In time of health crisis like what we are facing today, telemedicine has its clear advantageHowever, many economists and medical professionals believe that it is also the way of future because it would make healthcare more approachable and accessible to the public and lower the cost and inequities.  

How does telemedicine work?

Telemedicine is similar to an in-person doctor visit. With a telemedicine appointment, you rely on your smart phone, tablet or computer’s cameras to communicate with your provider. It could be through your current provider or through a healthcare app, which connects you to service staffed by licensed professionals. They are able  to give you a diagnosis, referrals or even write prescriptions for medication. The most popular apps include Amwell , Doctor on Demand and Teledoc.

  • You can be on the call with a family member, friend or health care advocate, just as you would if you were visiting the doctor’s office in-person.
  • Like any in-person visit, compose your thoughts ahead of time.
  • And if you’re not dealing with a doctor, physician’s assistant or other healthcare provider who has access to your medical files, it’s up to you have those ready to share.

How does one supply your vitals remotely?

Be ready to take your own vitals: They could include: weight, heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, and possibly pulse oximeter reading. The market for Telehealth apps and wearables is expected to grow exponentially in the next 5-10 years.  For instance, the Apple Watch already tracks one’s activity, blood pressure, heart rate and sleep. One virtual medicine provider, Tytocare sells its own home diagnostic kit called TytoCare  Home Remote Exam Kit for $299. The digital diagnostic kit includes a camera for throat and ears, plus stethoscope for heart and lungs. These tools are designed give its physicians high-quality digital sounds of the heart and lungs, high-quality digital images and video of the ears, throat and skin. The tools can also measure heart rate and body temperature. With the help of this data, Tytocare says its doctors can provide patients with a diagnosis, treatment plan and prescription if needed.

The Tyto handheld device comes with attachments to allow you to measure heart rate and breathing, to diagnose ear and common respiratory infections and other aliments.

Is telemedicine good for everything?

Obviously, telemedicine isn’t right for every scenario. Heart attacks, strokes, broken bones and cuts all require in-person care. Call your provider ahead of time to locate the best place for treatment. Telemedicine is good for non-urgent health conditions, such as ear infections, rashes, cold and flu, insect bites, sore throat, diarrhea and pink eye.

 

Think you have a broken bone? An in-person consultation is best, and x-ray will be required to confirm. Try avoiding the emergency room. Call a local orthopedic center to see if it can treat you directly.

 

Is telemedicine legit?

Another hurdle to telemedicine is people afraid of change. The American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians have recommended guidelines for it.  The American College of Physicians says most of its members are using one of five telehealth services: video visits, e-consults, remote patient monitoring, remote care management/coaching and integration of data from patient wearables.

So, what are you waiting for? In this new era you can be happy to embrace one new thing: Telemedicine. It’s here to stay.

–Patty Yeager