There has been an explosion of virtual services and remote connections between doctors and their patients over the last year, and for a good reason. When some Americans felt at risk because of the effects of the pandemic, and didn’t want to leave the house, they were still able to connect with their healthcare providers. Telemedicine may have taken off as a momentary necessity in 2020, but it’s quickly transitioning to become a more mainstream offering these days.
You might be wondering just how telemedicine actually works. And in the end, will it be as effective as visiting your doctor in person? We’ll dive in further to explore the definitions, pros, and cons of telemedicine. It may be the solution to connecting patients with their doctors when in-person visits are impossible. And telemedicine may inspire some Americans, who would traditionally have an aversion to going to the doctor, to take a more active approach to their health and wellness.
What Is Telemedicine?
Don’t be confused between telemedicine and telehealth services. Telehealth services refer to a wide range of remote and non-clinical services. Telemedicine is more specific to virtual clinical providers and clinical services. It’s a method in which patients can connect with their doctors to discuss symptoms and medical issues. There are three types of telemedicine communications, each offering unique benefits for the providers and patients alike.
Asynchronous telemedicine, or store-and-forward telemedicine, is one method of disseminating information between patients and providers. Healthcare providers and doctors, for example, can share patient information, including labs, imaging, or results, with other care providers. A radiologist sending MRI results to a primary care physician is considered asynchronous telemedicine communication.
Remote Patient Monitoring
Another key method of telemedicine is Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM.) For those patients who require medical supervision or monitoring, usually in a hospital or care facility setting, remote monitoring telemedicine means receiving that supervision from home. Usually facilitated with the use of cameras, rural and homebound patients can still remain under the watchful eye of their physicians and caregivers.
Real-Time Interactive Service
The third and probably most commonly understood method of telemedicine is the real-time interaction. This type of telemedicine encompasses those video calls between patients and their doctors for real-time conversations. Instead of visiting the physician’s office, patients can video chat with professionals to discuss health concerns or symptoms.
How Does Telemedicine Work?
Obviously, telemedicine only works if both sides of the communication have the proper hardware. And there are different channels used as part of telemedicine therapy. Usually, both parties need to have a secure internet connection, smartphone, phone, or computer for it to work.
The Patient Portal
Some healthcare providers and organizations set up apatient portal online. With the use of a login and password, patients can confirm appointments, refill prescriptions, and email with nurses. Patient portals can often offer digital medical advice and resources, as well. Individuals can get explanations of diagnosis and connect with supporting information and documentation without having to wait for a phone call or in a crowded waiting room.
Telemedicine is often made possible via virtual appointments. Patients can call and discuss concerns in a remote meeting or phone call. These are often best for urgent care clinics and mental health professionals. Doctors can quickly connect with patients to see them and make important healthcare decisions.
Who Telemedicine Benefits
Telemedicine has been ideal during the pandemic for patients who felt at risk and needed to connect with their physicians in a socially distant way. But it’s also great for those who are more rural or live a significant distance from their healthcare providers. Telemedicine also benefits those who may be limited in mobility or with transportation. And anyone who may be traveling can use telemedicine to connect with their doctors back home.
Benefits & Disadvantages of Telemedicine
Telemedicine has plenty of benefits and even a few disadvantages. While it’s been great for patients in some scenarios, there are likely still situations in which the best care can only be offered in person. But overall, telemedicine may be here to stay.
Availability and Cost Disadvantages
One of the primary disadvantages of telemedicine is availability. Not everyone has an internet connection at home or a device that allows for virtual conversations. On the side of the healthcare providers, setting up a telemedicine ecosystem can be costly. Smaller doctors’ offices may not have the budget to set up and execute a telemedicine offering.
How Insurance Plans Handle Telemedicine
One of the biggest questions about telemedicine visits is, do the insurance companies treat these services and payments the same as in-person visits? For many health insurance plans, telemedicine conversations do count as traditional visits and qualify for coverage, and copays do apply. However, some areas continue to be gray, including with some private health insurance companies. The big five, including United Healthcare, Cigna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Humana, and Aetna, all have specific coverage parameters for telemedicine services.
Is Telemedicine as Effective as In-Person Healthcare?
The official verdict of viability may still be out on this final question. Telemedicine obviously serves a worthy purpose, and those who leverage its remote nature find tremendous value in it. If executed correctly by healthcare professionals and their platforms, telemedicine can, in fact, be as effective as visiting doctors in person. And for patients, having another way to connect with healthcare providers may just inspire more Americans to engage in their health and wellness. It may not be the first choice for everyone, but it doesn’t appear to be a temporary fix. Virtual may just be here to stay.
Taking care of your health is still the priority, whether you connect with your healthcare providers online or in the office. And having control of your health and wellness information still remains paramount. No matter how you prefer to connect with your doctors, you’ll likely need health insurance to help offset those costs. And when you’re ready to explore your health insurance plan options, browse with W3LL. Much like telemedicine, W3LL can be your digital partner in finding Marketplace insurance plans and substantial savings.