Telemedicine Basics

As technology evolves, doctors are finding more ways to efficiently and conveniently care for their patients. One such method is through the use of telemedicine—a form of technology-based communication that allows a doctor and patient to communicate without being in the same physical space.

Although telemedicine is not a complete replacement for direct patient care, it can be a useful tool for a variety of medical services, such as evaluation, diagnosis, and prescribing treatment.

Continue reading to discover how telemedicine works, the advantages and disadvantages, as well as how you can prepare for an appointment.

How Telemedicine Works

Through the use of technology, communication is facilitated either in a real-time or delayed setting. Usually a patient is able to communicate from his or her home with a doctor through a live video, audio or patient data transfer system. Doctors can see the patient and assess his or her symptoms, as well as obtain the patient’s records and medical history from electronic medical records.

Patients can stay in the comfort of their own homes and potentially prevent further illness from exposure to germs in a hospital or clinic. Many medical experts believe that patients who have difficulty traveling or who live in a rural area might have an easier time accessing medical care through telemedicine because telemedicine eliminates the need for travel in many situations. In addition, patients who are recovering from illness or injury at home can be monitored by their doctors through telemedicine visits.

Telemedicine Advantages

Telemedicine offers numerous benefits for both doctors and patients. Following are a few of the advantages of using telemedicine:

Remote Access

With this technology, doctors can reach patients in remote, rural and underserved areas where there might not be an available doctor or hospital.

Specialist Availability

Even when patients live in urban areas with numerous doctors and hospitals, specialists for rare health conditions may not practice in the area. Telemedicine enables patients in both rural and urban areas to connect with specialists who may be hundreds of miles away.

Cost Savings

Patients save money for routine and specialist care because they don’t have to pay travel expenses for distant doctors and don’t have to take excessive time off work to travel and then sit in a waiting room. Remote monitoring can also help lessen the much larger cost of long hospitalizations or in-home nursing, and it may reduce the cost of managing chronic conditions. Remote monitoring can also help prevent hospital readmission by properly supervising care following a patient’s discharge from the hospital.

Convenient Care

For some patients, the comfort and convenience of consulting with a doctor from the safety of their own homes is a tremendous advantage. For example, whereas patients might forget to bring medications with them to a traditional office visit, when patients are at home they have ready access to the information necessary for the doctor to diagnose and prescribe. Also, because the patient is at home, it is often easier to take notes or even include a family member who can help retain important information from the doctor.

Telemedicine Limitations

While telemedicine can reduce barriers to receiving medical care, there are some limitations.

One main restriction on telemedicine is licensing regulations. In some states, doctors are required to have a license in the state in which they physically practice, as well as in the state in which the patient is located.

Additionally, doctors are limited in the kinds of care they are allowed to provide to a new or existing patient. For example, the doctor may not be able to treat a new condition without scheduling a face-to-face follow-up appointment.

How to Prepare for a Telemedicine Appointment

As you prepare for a telemedicine appointment, you should consider several things.

  • You will probably need access to a laptop, phone or tablet, as well as an internet connection.
  • Because there is physical separation in telemedicine, any information you are able to provide, such as personal medical records and family medical history, can be helpful to your doctor.
  • If you are recovering or being cared for at home, it might be helpful to include caregivers in the visit.

For many patients, obtaining medical care can cost a great deal in time, resources and money. Telemedicine is a service that can help reduce the barriers of time and distance to a hospital or doctor’s office.

For more information on how telemedicine works in your health insurance plan, contact one of our experienced employee benefits agents.

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