What is Telemedicine?

Imagine for a moment that you have a cold. Or maybe it’s not a cold, maybe it’s the flu. Or maybe it’s something else entirely, and you aren’t quite sure. Whatever it is, you know you should see your doctor. So, you schedule a visit and take an entire afternoon off to go to their office. When you arrive, you sit in the waiting room, looking at a magazine from July of 1996 while you hope that someone will get to you soon. And when you do get seen, the answer is just that yes, it is the flu. Get rest, drink fluids, and take an over-the-counter pain reliever if necessary. From there, you get back into your car, drive home, and collapse in your bed and wait for the crud to go away.

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Imagine if there was a different way to handle this. Imagine that there was a way that didn’t take all afternoon and didn’t involve going anywhere; a way for you to talk to your doctor and get a diagnosis all from the comfort of your couch or sickbed. Imagine that you could use your phone and its camera, or your computer’s webcam to talk to a doctor and get the same diagnosis. Then you’d only have a couple of steps to return to your couch or bed and recuperate.

That’s what telemedicine is. It is using telecommunications equipment to receive medical care from your doctor remotely, all from the comfort of your own surroundings.

How Does Telemedicine Work?

Essentially, telemedicine connects you with a doctor via email, phone, or even video conference. You use that time to tell the doctor what your symptoms are, just like you would if you were in the doctor’s office. Similarly, you receive a diagnosis right there. Any prescriptions that you might need are sent directly to your pharmacy for you to pick up at your convenience.

It’s not just primary care physicians who are taking advantage of telemedicine either. Specialists are embracing this new method of patient care as well. If you live in a rural area, you might have noticed that there is a distinct lack of specialists around. You aren’t alone. According to the National Rural Health Association, on average, there are only 30 specialists per 100,000 people. This is compared to an urban density of 263 specialists per 100,000 people. With telemedicine, you can get treatment from a specialist without traveling to a clinic that is miles away. This means that you don’t have to skip an important appointment if you have car trouble or can’t find a babysitter.

What are the Benefits of Telemedicine?

The benefits of telemedicine to you in either of these situations are plain to see. In the first situation, you don’t have to leave your sickbed to get a diagnosis. Additionally, because you don’t visit the doctor in person, there’s no chance of you getting other people sick. And of course, if you need to see a specialist and the closest one is a hundred miles away, having the option to use telemedicine saves you money and ensures that you get the care you need.

Are There Drawbacks From Using Telemedicine?

You might wonder to yourself that if telemedicine is this amazing, why isn’t everyone using it. That’s because there are some downsides to this innovation. First and foremost, not every illness is suited for telemedicine.

Telemedicine is great for cases where a doctor can make a diagnosis from symptoms alone, but some illnesses require face-to-face consultations. Even something as mundane as a yearly checkup still requires a patient to see their doctor in person. Additionally, sometimes you just want that personal touch that you can’t get from an email or even a phone call.

Another concern that you might have when it comes to telemedicine is that there is a lack of care continuity. What this means is that when you use telemedicine, you can get connected with a random doctor from anywhere in the United States. And that means that the next time you do visit your primary care physician in his office, he might not have all of the records of your telemedicine consultations. Systems are being put into place to ensure that records are sent and accessible to your doctor, but the concern is still there.

Finally, another concern for people who want to use telemedicine is that insurance companies haven’t gotten a universal system in place that will allow them to reimburse you. Even though telemedicine consultations are less expensive than in-person visits, that doesn’t help if your insurance doesn’t cover it. However, in 29 states and Washington D.C., there are telemedicine parity laws. These laws require private insurance companies to reimburse you for a telemedicine consultation the same as they would for any in-person visits to your doctor. On top of that, Medicaid programs in 48 states cover telemedicine visits. So while there is still some room for growth, the coverage for telemedicine is expanding, making this avenue of treatment extremely viable for patients in certain circumstances. As part of this growth, LowestMed recently joined forces with Telehealth leader, Wellvia. This combines LowestMed’s money saving power with Wellvia’s comfortable convenience.

In the end, telemedicine will continue to grow from the nearly $18 billion industry it is now. As hospitals and private practices put the infrastructure into place that is necessary to implement telemedicine, it will only continue to get bigger. This market for on-demand health care is something that you can take advantage of to save time and money. However, ensuring that you know the pros and cons of how telemedicine can help you will assist you in making a better choice for yourself and your loved ones.