TeleHealth is a new term being given to describe the methods for enhancing or providing health care through means of telecommunication. Simply put, it’s heath care delivered over the phone or internet. What Netflix is to going to the movies, TeleHealth is to going to the doctor.
Going to visit a doctor has always involved being in spaces that necessarily are inhabited by other people, some of whom could be infected with various diseases. In an effort to avoid that contact and enhance social distancing, TeleHealth has emerged as a viable alternative and some might say a return to the old ways of house visits – without the in person contact.
What can you do with TeleHealth? That is an endless list but here’s a few examples:
- Make health care accessible to those in rural or remote areas
- Share videos or photos of symptoms with health care professionals
- Share data (food logs, exercise records) with a doctor or nurse
- Improve communication between a patient and a team of doctors, nurses and health care professionals involved in that patient’s care
- Provide support and answer questions for self-management of health care
- Provide health care services for patients with limited mobility, time, or transportation options
As you can imagine that list goes on and on. The ability now in our modern world to have a direct video and audio communication channel with a doctor or nurse without actually being in their presence is a game changer.
Containing Infections Diseases with TeleHealth
Infections can spread many different ways but all are enhanced with close physical contact. An important way to limit the spread of infectious disease is to limit gatherings of people where virus can spread to many new hosts. As anyone who has sat in a doctor’s waiting room or a hospital waiting area can tell you, that’s where sick people go. Anything we can do in this day and age to limit our exposure to any sick people will flatten the curve of any infectious disease.
TeleHealth provides an easy way for a patient to contact a doctor, nurse, or other health care professional from the comfort of their own home. The communication channels are encrypted and private for patient safety and privacy. Patients have no need to come in physical contact with any other people, infected or otherwise. They can describe their symptoms to the doctor or nurse and if necessary share photos or videos in a secure online environment. A health care professional can then recommend next steps for a patient, perhaps further testing or a prescription.
By far one of the biggest benefits of TeleHealth is the ability for patients to seek out medical care regardless of their location or ability to get to a health care professional. Another big benefit is avoiding contact with other persons thereby protecting both the patient and the people they might have come into contact with, and benefiting society as a whole by limiting the infection rate of new infectious diseases.
Prescriptions via TeleHealth
Some patients think the only way to be prescribed medicine or other treatments is to go see a doctor in person. Not true, a licensed health care professional can dispense prescriptions at their sole discretion. So for example if you are video chatting with a doctor and he can tell you have an ear infection he can just call in a prescription for antibiotics to your local pharmacy and you can go pick them up. But it doesn’t stop there.
With the advent of the internet and ecommerce you no longer need to physically pick up your prescriptions from the pharmacy. Many pharmacies are mail order or ecommerce enabled and in fact some insurance plans require patients to order their recurring prescriptions online or over the phone to cut down on costs.
So in today’s world it is possible to consult privately with your physician, share your symptoms, get prescribed medication and receive that medication all without leaving your home.
Online Doctor Visits
When it comes to scheduling an online doctor visit you have many options and choices. The first place to check is with your health insurance provider. Many health insurance providers have online doctors ready to serve their patients. For example, Blue Shield offers a service called TelaDoc where they have board-certified, licensed doctors available 24/7 by phone or video to treat non-emergency medical issues and provide prescriptions when needed. Chances are your health insurance provider has a similar service available.
If not, here are some services and apps that provide online doctor visits and may be covered by your health insurance:
- Quick.md – No waiting, no insurance needed, $75 per visit and can send prescriptions to your pharmacy in minutes
- DrSays – $35 visits, works with most insurance. Phone and video, and patients can upload photos
- MDProactive – Starting at $39.95 per visit, no insurance required
When NOT to use TeleHealth
If you are experiencing a medical emergency you should immediately dial 911 and/or get to the nearest hospital’s emergency room. TeleHealth is not designed for medical emergencies requiring immediate medical care.