If you think that seeing a doctor could be simpler and more convenient than the current setup, then the emerging field of telemedicine may be just for you. Telemedicine, which is destined to radically change the way health care is delivered in this country, broadly refers to patients’ use of two-way video, text messaging, e-mail and even smartphones to interact with medical professionals. To get the best care from telemedicine, you just need to know the benefits—and possible traps. Key pros and cons of this approach…
With telemedicine, you can use your own doctor (if he/she offers the service) or one affiliated with one of many telemedicine practices. These practices retain licensed physicians, nurse practitioners and other health professionals and make them available directly to patients—sometimes 24/7. Whether you’re dealing with your own doctor or one from a telemedicine practice, you can communicate via such services as secure video, e-mail or phone without leaving your home or office. Telemedicine consults can be used to discuss test results, follow up on a course of treatment, monitor vital signs and even determine if you need care in a doctor’s office.
Thousands of US employers have added telemedicine services such as Teladoc (Teladoc.com) and MDlive (MDlive.com) to their employees’ traditional health coverage. These employers have found that employees who use telemedicine practices miss less work, since they spend less time going to doctors’ appointments. For those with private insurance, companies such as WellPoint, Aetna and Blue Cross/Blue Shield affiliates offer similar services. If you’re interested in using a doctor from a telemedicine practice but your employer doesn’t pay for it or your individual policy doesn’t cover it, you can buy coverage directly from a telemedicine provider for about $15 to $50 per month. Without coverage, each electronic “conversation” (such as e-mail or video) with a medical provider can cost $40 to $75. Medicare and Medicaid also have telemedicine programs, but they are currently focused in rural or underserved areas.
A televisit eliminates those long waits at the doctor’s office. With electronic health records, you can arrange to have your medical history stored or made accessible to any provider you use. That means it will be available electronically as the doctor or nurse speaks with you via video, text and/or phone.
No matter how sophisticated the technology, a face-to-face physical is often vital to a correct diagnosis—for example, when you have multiple or severe symptoms such as dizziness, chest tightness or high fever. And if your connection via the Internet is slow, you may not get the ultimate value of telemedicine.
Even though telemedicine interactions must comply with federal HIPAA privacy laws, you still need to be careful. Ask your doctor or telemedicine provider if his Internet lines are encrypted and secure before sharing any personal information or transferring any medical history. General telephone lines and Skype are NOT secure.