Getting to the doctor’s office isn’t an easy feat for everyone. A variety of barriers to access can impede a person’s ability to access in-person medical care — including a pandemic. Thankfully, telemedicine is on the rise, and doctors across the nation are bringing remote services to patients unable to access the traditional clinic setting. Telemedicine is especially promising for improving access to care for people in rural and undeserved locations.
What is telemedicine?
Telemedicine involves remote patient care using special software to ensure a safe, secure, and HIPAA compliant visit. Telemedicine may also include remote monitoring of patients and the sharing of patient records with other healthcare professionals.
The term telehealth is related to telemedicine but is all-encompassing and includes non-clinical parts of the remote caregiving process such as appointment booking and online training for doctors.
What are the benefits?
Telemedicine has a host of benefits for both the patient and physician:
• Prevents illness spread. This is of particular importance during a pandemic
• Improved access. Increases access to medical care for underserved communities and people with limited mobility.
• Convenient. There’s no need to wait in a waiting room for hours on end, and patients don’t have to drive or take public transit to get to a doctor’s visit. Telemedicine is particularly handy for minor issues and ailments that require no physical exam.
• Helpful for managing chronic conditions. With the help of at-home monitoring equipment, doctors can check on their patients remotely, and people with chronic illnesses won’t need to find time for multiple in-person visits per year.
• Access to mental health services. Telementalhealth services increase access to care for people with mental health conditions.
• Increased efficiency. Telemedicine can help practitioners provide efficient care.
• Limits life disruptions. Instead of taking time off of work, patients can quickly get a diagnosis and, when appropriate, treatment for a host of minor ailments. There’s also no need for patients accessing telemedicine to find alternative care for young children or elderly family members.
• Better connection between doctor and patient. Remote health services allow patients to communicate with their primary care physicians more frequently, giving them more time to ask and have their questions answered. Some people, however, argue that this type of healthcare is impersonal and has the opposite effect.
Doctors can also easily prescribe and renew medications using remote telehealth services and share patient records with other doctors or healthcare systems.
Obstacles for the Expansion of Telemedicine
Although telemedicine has plenty of advantages, there are critical challenges to consider:
• Policy issues. The law has been slow to catch up to the rapid expansion of telemedicine. As policies are introduced, remote care faces obstacles related to privacy, coverage, and other related healthcare laws.
• Potential for low-quality patient care. While telemedicine has the potential to improve care overall, some worry about the limitations of technology and certain people falling through the cracks.
• Expensive. Adopting robust, vetted telemedicine technology requires time and money investments that not all healthcare systems are willing to make.
• Limits on prescribing. Some states have regulations that bar physicians from prescribing certain drugs via telemedicine visits, which can be difficult when remotely treating patients with chronic conditions.
What’s a visit like?
Visits typically involve video conference software. You should expect to see and communicate with your doctor face to face and in real time. Choose a space that’s both quiet and private and have note-taking tools on hand.
Some visits may occur solely via telephone.
A remote doctor’s visit is much like an in-person one. You’ll be asked to describe your issue or symptoms. For dermatological or other typically visually-diagnosed problems, you’ll be asked to provide a close up of your ailment or blemish for a proper diagnosis.
If it’s your first visit, the doctor may ask about your medical history. The doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms, so have this information at the ready. If you anticipate having any questions, write them down so you don’t forget to ask them.
Can telemedicine replace in-person care?
Telemedicine can’t entirely replace in-person care. Some illnesses and medical issues require in-person assessment and treatment. It’s also an inappropriate solution for emergency health issues such as cardiac events or broken bones. However, remote patient care tools increase access for people who might otherwise forgo or put off doctor’s office visits.
Written by: Steph Coelho