The Covid-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of our lives: work, school, worship, socializing, and so much more. Many would agree that most of these changes have not been for the better. Health care providers and patients can add telehealth to that endless list of changes that were thrust upon us in mid-March 2020.
Telehealth is broadly defined as the integration of health and technology to provide patient care and improve healthcare delivery including telemedicine and virtual care visits. According to the American Medical Association, physicians and other healthcare providers are seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients via telehealth since the beginning of the pandemic.
Virtual healthcare visits have jumped significantly most obviously as a solution to face-to-face visits in the beginning days of Covid-19 when everyone was trying to determine how to best preserve personal healthcare equipment and guidelines for mask-wearing and social distancing were being developed. One major contributor to the massive increase is the policy changes that many insurers have adopted to make virtual care visits more accessible and equitable for both patients and providers. Prior to the pandemic, virtual care visits were often limited to patients living in rural and remote areas where access to healthcare providers was arduous.
Additionally, many insurers removed or reduced copays and co-insurance from patients, making virtual care visits more cost effective. Finally insurance companies began to increase reimbursement to providers to make it more equitable to compensate providers for their time and expertise.
Virtual healthcare most commonly deploys some piece of telecommunication device such as computer or tablet or even a telephone. Ideally, the device will allow for both audio and video communication, but certainly visits can be conducted over a traditional telephone if that is what is available to a patient. Virtual visits can be conducted over many types of platforms including Face Time, Zoom, Skype, and some providers subscribe to platforms such as Doxy.me or Teledoc that are designed specifically for healthcare providers. Patient privacy is always paramount to providers.
A primary goal of any medical visit, whether in person or virtual, is to collect a patient’s medical history, family health history, medications one is taking, and current symptoms. Many healthcare providers have portals or platforms that allow patients to register this information ahead of a visit. The same is the case for a virtual health visit. This allows the provider time to review and discuss particular issues when you “meet.”
Providers can see patients virtually for a wide variety of services, including follow-up appointments, medication and chronic management, counseling and education appointments, behavioral health visits, and health screenings. Any condition that does not require an immediate physical examination or diagnostic testing may lend itself to a virtual appointment.
If you have a virtual visit scheduled, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. Make sure all your health information provided is up to date. You may be asked to provide some basic health measures during the appointment such as recent blood pressure reading, weight, or possibly temperature. Completing these tasks ahead of the appointment will help expedite the appointment.
Confer with your healthcare provider and insurance company about whether virtual visits are a covered service under your plan. While many have added this service, it’s best to check beforehand. Finding a private space, without distractions, will insure a confidential and more meaningful visit. It’s also helpful to have any questions prepared ahead of time and take notes during the visit to refer back to later.
If you have a medical emergency or acute illness, virtual visits will not be a good option, but many health concerns can be assessed and dealt with via telemedicine. Check with your healthcare provider to see if a virtual health visit is a good option for you.