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Telemedicine: Technology Meets Healthcare

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has introduced many challenges in our lives. The simple task of calling your healthcare provider to schedule a medical visit has become burdensome, and to some extent risky. We are all doing our best to practice physical distancing, so the thought of visiting a doctor's office with patients who may be infected with the virus is daunting to say the least.  In addition, medical facilities and hospitals are inundated with more patients than they can handle with limited medical supplies and equipment.
 
The good news is that if you have a non-urgent medical issue, you can still visit with a doctor without being physically present. You can conduct the visit using an electronic communications tool by exercising what is commonly referred to as telemedicine, telehealth or virtual doctor visit.
 
What is telemedicine/telehealth/virtual doctor/virtual health visit?

Using HIPAA compliant electronic communications (videoconferencing), virtual doctors care for patients remotely when patients cannot physically be present.

What are the benefits of telemedicine?
It’s a cost-effective, secure way of consulting with a medical provider without physically being in their presence. You can visit with a virtual doctor in the comfort of your own home without having to drive to a medical facility.  This service is especially helpful if your medical provider is located outside your city, or if you have concerns about being around sick patients.  
 
When should I use telemedicine?
Telemedicine is a great option for non-emergency health issues. 
 
Does my insurance cover telemedicine?
As a first step, check with your insurance company to understand exactly what is covered; if there’s a co-payment fee and other hidden costs. To understand what the coverage entails, call the customer service number on the back of your insurance ID card to speak to a representative. Alternatively, you can visit the carrier’s website.  
 
Is telemedicine covered under Medicare?
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the federal government has relaxed some restrictions around telemedicine. On March 17, the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) temporarily waived restrictions on the use of virtual health. (Previously, telehealth services were only covered for beneficiaries living in rural areas.) By lifting some of the previous regulations, more qualified individuals will be able to access virtual health.
 
If you are covered under Medicare, you can visit this site to learn about Medicare coverage. In addition, this site also provides useful information on the recently approved Medicare coverage.
 
If my insurance covers telemedicine, what steps do I take to partake in this service?

  1. If you chose to visit with a virtual doctor, you will need a communications tool with a camera as the doctor will most likely ask you to use the camera/video function to see things.  A smart phone or tablet are ideal as you can easily hold them in your hand or bring close to your face/body to show the doctor the area of concern.
  2. You will need to download the appropriate application from the app store on your smart device
  3. Next you will need to create your profile on the app, including pharmacy information
  4. Finally, you can schedule an appointment with a virtual doctor 

For more information on top apps in the marketplace, check out these links:
https://www.thetechblock.com/business-tech/top-telemedicine-apps-of-2020/
https://www.healthline.com/health/best-telemedicine-iphone-android-apps
 
In these difficult times, we are all making sacrifices and changing our routines to help stop the spread of COVID-19. However, you do not need to put your health on hold and ignore non-emergency medical issues by avoiding a doctor’s visit. Telemedicine is a great resource available to you over these next few months, and beyond. You may find that the ease and convenience of a virtual doctor’s visit is beneficial to you even after the COVID-19 concerns have passed.

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