Michelle Llamas, Drugwatch: May 20, 2020
Telemedicine allows patients to have a remote, non-emergency office visit with their health care provider by using a smartphone, computer or tablet. Research shows most patients are highly satisfied with telemedicine visits, and in most instances these visits are as good as in-person visits.
Telemedicine has been growing in popularity in recent years. As more states are implementing laws to facilitate telemedicine, more Americans are embracing remote visits with their health care providers.
From 2016 to 2017, health insurance claims for telemedicine grew by 53 percent, according to FAIR Health’s FH Healthcare Indicators and FH Medical Price Index 2019. It grew more than claims for urgent care centers, retail clinics and emergency departments.
By 2017, about 76 percent of hospitals in the United States connected with patients and other practitioners virtually through video or other technology, according to the American Hospital Association.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, analysts for Forrester Research predicted virtual health care interactions could top one billion by the end of 2020, CNBC reported.
Telemedicine vs. Telehealth
Telemedicine is a component of a larger group of remote health care services called telehealth, though sometimes people use the terms interchangeably.
The main difference between the two is that telemedicine specifically refers to medical information exchanged remotely to improve a patient’s health. Information can be exchanged through email, two-way video, smartphones and other wireless tools.
Telehealth encompasses telemedicine and other types of remote health care information exchanges, such as health education, medical provider training, administrative meetings and more.
Is Telemedicine as Good as an In-Person Visit?
The majority of telemedicine uses are just as good as in-person visits, according to research by the American Telemedicine Association (ATA). They may also be less expensive than in-person visits.
There has been over 40 years of research and thousands of studies related to telemedicine, and ATA reviewed these for cost effectiveness and quality of care in its 2013 report, Telemedicine’s Impact on Healthcare Quality and Cost.
“For most telemedicine applications, studies have shown that there is no difference in the ability of the provider to obtain clinical information, make an accurate diagnosis, and develop a treatment plan that produces the same desired clinical outcomes as compared to in-person care when used appropriately,” the ATA said.
Eighty-three percent of the time, patients can resolve their health issues during the first telemedicine visit, according to Red Quill Consulting.
One key thing to consider is preparing ahead of time, according to Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research.
“It’s important to make a list in advance of every question and comment before the [telemedicine] doctor’s visit,” Zuckerman told Drugwatch. “Being organized with anything that concerns you is even more important when the doctor doesn’t see you in person and can’t notice health issues that might be more obvious in person.”
Zuckerman advises consumers to write down and keep track of their medical provider’s answers during a telemedicine visit.
Patients who want to conduct a telemedicine visit with a provider will first need to confirm that the provider offers this option. Second, they will need a reliable internet connection and a smartphone, computer, laptop or tablet.
If you don’t have a preferred medical provider, you can check with your insurance company for providers that participate in their telemedicine program. You’ll also want to check with your insurance company’s policies on paying for these visits.
Ask your HR department if your employer has a preferred telemedicine provider.
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