What is telehealth?

The 1960s were a time of great excitement as man, his viruses, bacteria, and other medical ailments sped toward the moon. NASA was faced with the herculean task of providing medical care to astronauts who were millions of miles away, and so Telehealth was born.

By 1975, fifteen active Telehealth projects were in motion and a new era in medicine had taken root.  Soon the project expanded into providing care for patients in both rural communities and space, and today it’s expanding into our homes.Vidyo_iPhone-580x331

It is now possible to organize a 15–20 minute video call with a medical professional in just a few minutes using an iPhone or android app. Imagine the possibilities. Instead of driving to your medical professional’s office, you can now have a virtual visit from the comfort of your own home in complete privacy. If your restrictive work hours are preventing you from seeing your doctor, you can call at any time of night or day. For those who are elderly and infirm, virtual visits are preferable to what can seem to be an epic journey to visit your doctor’s office.

Many doctors are using Telehealth to generate additional revenue for their practices by taking video or phone calls between appointments or during no-shows. Once the technology is worked out, it’s every bit as convenient for them as it is for you.

Other applications of Telehealth include psychotherapist visits to chronic care management services, home healthcare services, social work, occupational therapy, remote monitoring of patient’s vitals, sending medication reminders, and motivational messages via text,

When should I use Telehealth?

For acute medical conditions, use Telehealth If:

  • you have a cold, sinus infection, sore throat, UTI, skin rashes, vomiting/diarrhea, or are interested in quitting smoking.
  • you have a mental health conditional such as anxiety or depression and require counseling from a psychologist.
  • you need to talk to a social worker, or a case manager whom you have an existing relationship with about chronic condition.

Do NOT use Telehealth if:

  • You are in imminent danger of harming yourself or others. Call 911 or head straight to the nearest emergency room.
  • You are experiencing acute chest pain or unexplained numbness and tingling or the worst headache of your life. Call 911 or head straight to the nearest emergency room.
  • You have a wound or other condition that requires physical care.

Is Telehealth available in my state?

American Telehealth Association 2015

American Telehealth Association 2015

In 2015, the American Telemedicine Association graded Telehealth throughout the U.S.  The vast majority of states scored at least a B with five states scoring an A, defined as complete parity with physical services.

There’s a good chance that Telehealth is available in your state.

Many health insurers have started programs of offering Telehealth services. Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, one of the largest payers in the country, now offers Telehealth doctor’s visits as a covered benefit to its members. There are also private services such as Dr On Demand, Live Health Online, MD Live, and many more. Even WebMD is now looking to provide this service.

Can I get a prescription?

During the sign-up process, you will be asked to nominate a pharmacy where you can collect any medications prescribed during your virtual visit. It’s important to understand that while almost all Telehealth providers can prescribe some classes of medications, there are state and federal restrictions to consider.

Controlled substances are rarely offered due to federal regulations, though some states such as Texas allow for dispensing in DEA facilities. It is a good idea to check on the Telehealth services web site that you are using to see exactly what conditions they treat, and whether they prescribe for those conditions.

It is safe to assume that most common medications such as antibiotics will always be covered.

How does my primary stay in sync?

At the end of each Telehealth visit, your primary is sent a discharge summary once the visit completes that lists the diagnosis, any prescribed medications, followup instructions, and a range of other information that is designed to keep them completely up to date with what happened in your virtual appointment.

In most cases the discharge summary is faxed directly to your doctors office on the day of the visit and scanned or imported into your Electronic Medical Record for future reference.

“We need to bring the exam room to where the patients are.”
—Dr. Jay Sanders, telemedicine pioneer

Featured photo credit: pixabay via pixabay.com

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