Telemedicine may seem counterintuitive at first glance. In order to diagnose a problem in your body, the doctor would need to actually see your body, right? You're correct in that for some situations, such as surgery or a pap smear, there is no substitute for in-person patient care. But different forms of remote communication and consultation between doctors and patients have been around for almost 40 years. With the rise of digital health care appointments, here's our take on how to use telemedicine and make it work for you.
The basics of telemedicine
Telemedicine, often used interchangeably with the term telehealth, uses technology such as a video call from your laptop or cell phone to provide medical care and support remotely. This is generally done as a substitute for routine consultations and only for non-emergency scenarios. With telemedicine, doctors can continue to provide quality care from a distance, and you don’t have to readjust your schedule for an in-office check-up. Telemedicine enables you to take your appointments from anywhere that is safe, confidential, and comfortable for you.
Doctors and healthcare providers often use a variety of communication services to send lab, X-rays, or test results directly to patients, and patient portals have been around for years as a way to easily communicate with your doctor. While remote video-calling consultations were available before COVID-19, their popularity has increased as another way to socially distance and save yourself from an in-office visit.
What's more, there are even situations where telemedicine is an appropriate, and sometimes even preferable, substitute for an in-person consultation.
When should I use telemedicine?
Telemedicine can be a proper replacement for in-person appointments with your OB/GYN for the following reasons, sometimes with provided in-home equipment:
- Answering general questions or concerns
- Discussion of sensitive topics such as Pap smear results, biopsies, STD-screening results, and other test results that do not require immediate in-person action
- Follow-up appointments after a procedure
- Obstetric visits, postpartum check-ups, and new patient visits
- Other gynecological problems such as gestational diabetes monitoring, preeclampsia monitoring, family planning care, and additional discussions
How do I make a telemedicine appointment?
Many healthcare providers are providing patients with the option of telemedicine visits. Appointments are usually made in the same way as an in-office appointment — either by calling the office to make an appointment or by using your doctor's patient portal.
Usually, a telemedicine appointment is billed to your insurance or charged to you as a general consultation. Check with your healthcare provider to make sure all the systems they use follow HIPPA regulations and have end-to-end encryption for any text and message-based systems.
What if my provider doesn't offer telemedicine?
Beyond telemedicine through your general care providers, there are also third-party telehealth and telemedicine options that remotely connect you to a doctor. These healthcare services often allow quicker wait times and can be a cheaper option for people who pay out of pocket.
If you're looking for more telehealth options, check out Healthline's roundup of best telehealth companies for more info. While telemedicine is a great option for a variety of situations, remember that telehealth shouldn't permanently replace your in-person healthcare and that some in-office visit procedures or check-ups may be needed.
If you’re hoping to decrease your in-person visits, or just want a more flexible option for your health care appointments, telemedicine is an accessible alternative to in-office doctor's visits.