You’ve been in pain for months due to a pre-existing condition. You had an appointment scheduled with the only specialist that is closest to where you live in an office an hour away. The family member who agreed to bring you was suddenly called into work and are unable to take you. It’s too late to set up a medical ride (who’s had a bad history of unreliability) with your insurance company and so you were forced to miss that appointment. This is the third time it’s happened. You call the medical assistant apologizing for missing the appointment last minute with intention to reschedule to come in when you are suddenly relieved to find out that you can now have your appointment set up via phone or video call. Finally, a solution to this pesky problem!
What Is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is the utilization of technology such as phone, internet and other devices to keep communication of information between patient and health professional in order to ensure the patient gets the best healthcare. It has become a popular topic of discussion amongst individuals with chronic conditions and has been utilized much more frequently within this year alone due to covid-19/coronavirus. Implementation of this technique has allowed individuals to have access to their doctors and get the care they need from the comfort of their own home. Patients can choose to be dressed on a video call or lay around in their underwear on the phone discussing their issues.
What Are The Benefits Of Telemedicine?
From patient portals for ease of communication, patient intake and avoidance of long waiting room lines to receiving mental health care and even virtual health monitoring at home, the benefits are many. It can cut the amount of time spent on travel as well as keep patient and professional safe from infectious diseases when doing basic consultation.
An online tool typically used to keep track of upcoming appointments, past appointments, test results, diagnosis, basic health educational info and much more it is highly useful so the patient and doctor can keep track of the patient’s health concerns. Sometimes these portals allow simple sending of messages to and from doctors. These have also been used to check into appointments as well as safely host health video calls.
Mental Health Appointments
When visiting a therapist/counselor, sessions are typically utilized talking. This is something that can easily be done over the phone or through a video chat as therapy doesn’t typically include touching the client.
Preventing Spread Of Infection
Covid-19 also known as coronavirus and SARS-Cov-2 has taught us many lessons worldwide on health and taking the best care of ourselves as possible. With the presence of a variety of contagious diseases that can be passed through the air and being in close proximity, telemedicine is a great option to go over some basic care. Speaking with the doctor to report symptoms and have a conversation with them besides leaving a message at the front desk allows some one-on-one time in order to ask questions and address other concerns.
Virtual Patient Monitoring
Instruments that are typically worn or used by the patient that can connect to the internet and upload information to a database where the doctor can access it is a major plus. For example, diabetic patients can utilize virtual blood glucose monitors to keep track of sugar levels throughout the day. In a study outlined here, it has been shown to help patients significantly improve their health outcomes. In a study of children with cystic fibrosis here, doctors were able to have their patients’ health successfully monitored from home using an electronic spirometer. Remote heart monitors, such as this one here, have also been used to help doctors monitor patients with various heart issues such as irregular heartbeat, palpitations, and more. This is good if a patient may experience certain heart issues during specific activities or times of day. It gives a broader view of what is going on with the patient and is more helpful to the doctor than having only a few minutes to check symptoms while in the office.
For some individuals, getting to and from appointments can be a hassle. If they live far away travel can take a good chunk of time out of their day for a short 15-30 minute appointment. Also, despite there being certain ride services funded by Medicaid and/or other insurance companies for patients who need rides, sometimes they can be severely unreliable taking up even more, unnecessary time. With telemedicine, the most one may have to travel is from the bed to the couch or desk and sometimes not even that when using the phone or internet.
So far I’ve had two experiences with telemedicine. The first time was with a therapist and the second with a rheumatologist. With the therapist, my appointment was scheduled over the phone with the medical assistant. It was explained to me how it would work. The appointment was added to an online patient portal and on the day of the appointment I received a call from the medical assistant 10 minutes before. She told me to sign into the portal and connect via a video app and wait for my therapist to come on. It was a really simple process and went not much different from being in the therapist’s office.
My appointment with the rheumatologist was done in almost a similar fashion, except this time I had the choice to do it over the phone or via video call. I chose phone. The day of the appointment I got a call from the medical assistant about 10 minutes prior to go over basic intake. This included any changes in medication, allergies, etc. She told me the doctor would call me. When the doctor called we went over the usual questions on if I experienced any symptoms since my last visit. She asked if I had any trouble with pain in joints, muscles, if I could move ok, etc. She also went over my latest lab results with another doctor that is associated with my condition here and labs that she’d like for me to have done.
One thing about this appointment that I was curiously anticipating is if whether or not she would be late. She was an hour late. Oftentimes people would say doctors are late because patients may arrive to the office late (which for telemedicine I would think would be less of an issue) or maybe someone needed more time with their appointment. For a person like me that’s feeling great with nothing to report, my appointment took about 15 minutes which included all we spoke of above plus me asking additional questions on why certain tests were ordered and other explanation of lab results. Despite me just going through the routine check-ups, I still found it inconvenient that the appointment still took so long to start.
It is obvious that a virtual doctor appointment cannot take the place of an actual hands-on physical examination. A patient complaining of pain in the abdomen can show on the camera or explain on the phone the area and type of pain they are having such as sharp or dull and how long it’s lasted. Yet, the doctor is not able to palpate and feel around to see if there are other factors going on that may cause the problem.
Another example in the shortcoming of telemedicine is needing dental procedures such as a cavity filling or extraction or getting some form of general surgery. However with such rapid advances in technology, we have already seen some surgeons performing surgeries remotely (also know as telesurgery) with patients in a hospital such as the case shown here. Who knows what the future of technology holds in this department. It can be done on a wider level, but I think the patient trust factor must be taken into account.
Insurance may not always cover this type of care, yet, I do see that it is possible for this to change for the better permanently considering our experiences with covid-19 and doing our best to stay safe and healthy in a viral pandemic. In my personal case, insurance has covered my virtual visits during the pandemic. More companies are seeing the benefits of utilizing phone and internet to accomplish jobs outside of the office. Lack of access to the internet or phone could also be a cause for concern.
It is obvious there are many benefits to telemedicine. From ability to get routine care and instruction from your doctor to utilizing at-home health monitoring tools. It may not be a full replacement for surgical procedures at the moment but it may go that route in the future. It is important to be able to know when to call your doctor for help and to utilize the telemedicine option. Please keep in mind that if you are on a video call, make sure you have some decent clothes on!
Remember to stay active in your self care!