Telemedicine provides a dose of around-the-clock healthcare convenience for people who are too far away, too busy, or too sick to travel to see a doctor in person. The concept of using telecommunications technology (such as phone and video) to conduct medical consultations was originally developed as a way to connect practitioners with patients who lived in remote, rural areas.
Today, the telemedicine option is becoming a common choice among urban populations as well. Virtual doctor visits can be easier to schedule and take less time than an office appointment. Telemedicine can also be less expensive – the average telemedicine consult costs about half of a traditional office visit.
Virtual care is most useful in situations that are not life threatening, and may not be right for individuals with a complicated health history. In addition, when you use telemedicine, you may not receive care from your regular physician — so if an ongoing relationship with one practitioner is important, you may want to schedule an office visit.
Consider telemedicine for generally minor concerns, including:
- Cold & Flu
- Conjunctivitis (“pink eye”)
- Diabetes monitoring
- Hypertension monitoring
- Prescription refill requests
- Reviewing test results
Always see your doctor in person for more serious or in-depth issues, such as:
- Chest pain or pressure
- Difficulty breathing
- Sudden weakness, numbness, or a change in vision
- Severe allergic reactions
- Annual physical exam (“checkup”)
Insurance reimbursement for telemedicine varies by state and type of medical insurance. To access telemedicine, check with your insurance provider to ask if you are covered and to find out how to connect with a practitioner. Some health organizations, including Walgreens and Virginia Mason, offer online healthcare options for people without insurance.