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We have to give technology some props — it’s responsible for making a lot of our mundane, everyday tasks a lot more convenient. (Hello, curbside grocery pickup!) And recently, we’ve seen telehealth come on the scene, giving those immunocompromised, living in rural areas, or leading busy lives the chance to get quality care at (literally) the click of a button.
If you’ve never made a telehealth appointment, we’re sure this breakdown will spark your curiosity even more. Keep reading to learn all about telehealth and how it works!
What is telehealth?
Telehealth (also known as telemedicine) allows you to see a doctor and get the care you need without having to schedule an in-person office visit. Think of it like working from home, but for your healthcare!
Telehealth can be done from anywhere you have internet access — and on any device — and can look like:
Talking to a doctor live over the phone or video chat.
Sending and receiving text messages from a doctor using a secure messaging service through email, an app, or other platform.
Remote monitoring so a doctor can check on you without having to leave your home (for those that use a device to gather vital signs or other data).
The types of care you can receive using telehealth
Telehealth isn’t just for simple ailments — you can get a variety of specialized healthcare through a virtual visit. It’s especially helpful for those with ongoing or chronic health issues, as many visits can be routine.
Depending on your doctor, he or she may prefer you make an in-person office visit for certain conditions. But typically, you can get care for the following through a telehealth appointment:
Colds, coughs, and stomach aches
Mental health treatment (like online therapy, counseling, and medication management)
Recurring conditions like migraines or urinary tract infections
Lab test or x-ray results and follow-ups
Physical therapy and occupational therapy appointments
Does insurance cover telehealth?
Good news: most insurance providers cover at least some percentage of your telehealth appointments, just like they would for an in-office visit, but it all depends on your health insurance plan and your state. (There are 42 states and the District of Columbia that require health insurance providers to reimburse for telehealth appointments.) Some even have special rates and programs to chat with on-call doctors for simple illnesses and conditions like colds, stomach aches, urinary tract infections, and more, which would be much cheaper than visiting an urgent care or your primary care physician.
Before you make your first telehealth appointment, check in with your insurance provider for the latest information about telehealth coverage. (Just so there are no surprises.) No matter what your insurance covers, however, you can always pay for the remaining balance using your HSA or FSA dollars.
How to prepare for a telehealth appointment
Telehealth appointments are similar to in-person visits — just without the commuting, waiting, near-freezing office temperatures, and potential exposure to other illnesses (especially if you’re immunocompromised). But you do need to make sure you properly prepare so you can have an effective visit. Here’s how:
Add your online appointment to your calendar. Whether you keep things old-school or have a digital calendar, write your appointment down so you don’t forget.
Test the sound, video, and camera on your device of choice. Most devices have built-in microphones, speakers, and cameras, but you may have to turn them on manually. If it’s your first time using a device for telehealth, it might be a good idea to do a test run with a friend or family member. Also, take a look around at your space — do you have privacy? Ample lighting? Noisy neighbors? While you don’t have to recreate a doctor office setup, it is best to ensure your doctor can see you clearly without any outside distractions.
Use the best internet connection possible. In other words, if your home office has the best (and fastest) internet connection, stick with taking your virtual telehealth appointment there. Now is not the time to test if your bedroom or kitchen has the same internet speed!
Charge your device. Video tends to deplete your device’s battery more quickly than what you might be used to. Try fully charging your device of choice the night before your appointment. (Tip: if you can, leave it plugged in during the appointment so it’s one less thing to worry about!)
Consider your health history and current concerns. Keep routine things like your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, or other vital information top of mind, especially if it’s with a doctor you’ve never seen before. But for any current concerns, a diary of your symptoms, recent medical records, images, and other information will make the appointment that much smoother.
Keep in mind you might need to make follow-up appointments in-person. If your doctor determines that you need to take a lab test or receive another diagnostic service for a proper diagnosis, you may have to change out of your pajama bottoms (or not — your call!) and make an in-person appointment.
The pros and cons of telehealth
The decision to make a telehealth appointment is completely up to you — but if you need a little more information, we’ve laid out some of the best benefits of telehealth, and some concerns with virtual doctor appointments.
The pros of telehealth:
The opportunity to receive care from a specialist who isn’t close by your home.
Some telehealth programs are 24/7, so you can get care wherever, whenever.
Some services may have lower out-of-pocket costs (plan depending).
Getting quality care at home, especially for those who are immunocompromised, living in rural areas or working virtual jobs.
More consistent support and communication from providers with digital portals and “online hours.”
The cons of telehealth:
Telehealth isn’t a good fit for every medical condition or healthcare need.
You may have to make an in-person lab or diagnostic appointment following your virtual visit.
Some services may not be fully covered, meaning you might pay more for a virtual visit.
The security of personal health data transmitted electronically might be a concern for you.
Technology can have a mind of its own — meaning WiFi connection, audio, and video issues could come up during your appointment.
If you’re curious about telehealth, we recommend you give it a try next time you find yourself with a sniffle, or if you need to chat with your primary care provider about your current prescription medication. It’s just one more reason to thank technology’s progress — and, you know, stay in your comfy pants for the day.