U.S. health officials, hospitals, and insurance companies encourage people to try telemedicine to treat allergies, ear pain, and other minor problems and skip a doctor’s office or clinic.
This is also a way to see a doctor if you think you have symptoms of COVID-19.
Objective: To prevent the spread of coronavirus, especially among the most vulnerable, the elderly and those who have health problems.
Virtual care has long been touted as a way to get help quickly rather than wait a few days to see a doctor, but Americans are slowly accepting this. There are signs that may change due to COVID-19.
Here’s more about how telemedicine works.
WHAT IS TELEMEDICINE?
Do you have a smartphone, tablet or computer? This is all you really need to use telemedicine, which is sometimes called telemedicine or virtual visits.
Typically, this only applies to a video visit with a remote care provider, such as a doctor or therapist, over a secure connection. To connect the patient uses a link to a website or app.
Some telemedicine items also offer a version using text messages between doctor and patient who may not actually be talking or seeing each other.
Telemedicine often involves diagnosing and treating a new health problem, but is also used to monitor existing long-term diseases such as diabetes. It’s more than just calling to get a prescription supplement, although doctors may prescribe some prescriptions, such as antibiotics, after visiting telemedicine.
WHO OFFERS IT?
Frequent sources are insurers and hospital systems. In fact, your inbox may have an offer from one of these providers that encourages you to try it now because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, the federal government said it would immediately expand access to telemedicine to help people with Medicare, its coverage program for those 65 and older, and for young patients who qualify due to disability.
And he urged states to expand services to those enrolled in Medicaid, a government program to reach low-income people.
Medicare telemedicine coverage was limited, mainly in rural areas, where patients had to visit designated places. Many insurer-driven Medicare Advantage plans also provide access to telemedicine.
WHAT DOES IT COST?
Prices vary. But many insurance companies and other providers are temporarily waiving fees to encourage more people to use virtual assistance.
Before visiting, contact the insurer or employer that provides your coverage. The plan may not cover some special services, such as virtual therapy sessions, or it may offer limited coverage.
What if you don’t have insurance? You can pay out of pocket through some telemedicine providers. MDLive treats mostly through video chats and charges $ 75 for emergency care. A dermatologist session costs $ 69.
Another company, 98point6, charges a $ 20 annual fee and then $ 1 for each visit. The company conducts diagnostics and treatment through secure text messaging.
Sinus infections, bronchitis, flu, asthma, pink eyes or fever are just a few examples. Telemedicine can handle a lot of care that would normally send patients to a doctor’s office or pharmacy clinic.
Dermatologists can examine warts or moles remotely. Therapists can also treat anxiety, depression or stress by allowing patients to stay in a place like their home where they feel more comfortable.
Patients who are worried about the coronavirus can also get a quick cyber-consultation with their doctor. Many telemedicine providers have developed computer programs to ask patients initial questions to help assess their health or risk of contracting the virus.
WHAT ARE ITS LIMITS?
A virtual doctor cannot treat chest pain, bone fractures or cuts that require suturing. This doctor will also not be able to test for coronavirus.
In some cases, they may also refer patients to another doctor for a personal visit.
Telemedicine providers often advertise their ability to connect patients with help in minutes. But the surge in demand caused by the coronavirus has slowed the response time of some vendors.
Doctors also say there are some moments of the personal visit that telemedicine cannot repeat. The doctor can detect additional health problems simply by noticing changes in the behavior or appearance of the average patient.
“My review begins when I see a patient walking around the room, how they talk, how they walk, just subtle things,” said Dr. Gary Leroy, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “It can’t always be done remotely.”
WHY CAN PATIENTS SLOW DOWN TO TRY IT?
Researchers have long said that health behavior is difficult to change. In the case of telemedicine, patients may be particularly reluctant to try something unfamiliar, especially if it is not for their regular physician.
Another problem is awareness. People can hear about telemedicine from their employer or insurer and then forget about it if they need help in a few months.
But people often become regular customers after trying telemedicine, said Dr. Jason Tibels, head of telemedicine provider Teladoc Health.
And he believes that the awareness created by the coronavirus will last long after the pandemic is extinguished.
“We were created for those moments,” he said.
The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Department of Science Education of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.