Technically, anytime you correspond with a doctor over the phone or through a patient portal, you’re using telemedicine, but technology now allows for telemedicine care that feels a lot more like a traditional doctor visit. Today you may exchange text messages or video chat with a healthcare professional to discuss your symptoms and course of treatment. If you need prescription medications to treat your symptoms, your doctor can often prescribe them based on a telehealth consultation.

When to use telemedicine

If you’re experiencing relatively mild or familiar symptoms, you can use a telemedicine to get an initial consultation with a doctor. Many common conditions like a cold, pink eye or allergies, may not require a full physical exam to identify and can be diagnosed from a distance. If your doctor determines your condition requires more attention, they may recommend an in-person visit or direct you to another facility for blood tests, x-rays or other tests.

If you have a chronic health condition, you may be able to use telemedicine to stay in close contact with your doctor as they monitor your condition. Specialized telemedicine technology can even facilitate remote patient monitoring, where a doctor can constantly monitor a patient’s vital stats like blood sugar, blood pressure or heart rate from a distance.1 Remote patient monitoring can be a relief for elderly or disabled patients who would struggle to make repeated visits to a doctor’s office, and in some cases allows patients who would otherwise be hospitalized to stay at home while under the supervision of a medical team.

If you live in a rural area, travel often, or find it difficult to see your healthcare provider in person for other reasons, telemedicine can help you get treatment for non-critical conditions you might be tempted to forego or delay treatment for. The expansion of telemedicine services has been especially beneficial for underserved communities with little access to quality health care. Telemedicine can even be used for dental care and mental health services, which can be severely limited in some communities.

Not every condition can be treated using telemedicine. Many illnesses require a physical exam to properly diagnose, and injuries often require stitches or a cast, but if you’re experiencing familiar symptoms of common health conditions, telemedicine may be the most convenient way to get the care you need.

Learn more about Guardian’s Teledentistry

How to access telemedicine

  • Through your doctor
    If you currently have a doctor who knows your health history and current conditions, check with their office to see if any telehealth services are available for their patients.
  • Through your health insurance provider
    If you have health insurance and don’t mind working with a new doctor, many health insurers offer their own telemedicine services or apps to put you in touch with one of their doctors. When working with a new doctor this way, you’ll be asked to provide more information about your health background before your appointment, so it may be helpful to make note of some key medical information beforehand, like a list of any  prescription medications you take or the results of any recent medical tests you’ve undergone.
  • Through a paid service
    Several companies now offer telemedicine care through a subscription service that gives you access to a limited selection of medical care options for a monthly or annual fee. If you have health insurance, check with your provider to see if they cover any of the services provided. If you don’t have health insurance, these services can be a relatively affordable and accessible way to get medical care that you pay for out of pocket.

Patients can use telemedicine services from the comfort of their own home if they have internet access and connected devices, and patients without the necessary resources at home may be able to access telemedicine through telehealth originating sites that are equipped with the necessary technology.

How to use telemedicine during a public health crisis

Telemedicine can be especially helpful in a public health crisis. In the case of coronavirus, if you suspect you have COVID -19 and may be contagious, you can use telemedicine to get an initial screening without going to a doctor’s office where you could infect others. And if you need medical care for a less serious condition, you may be able to use telemedicine to get care without risking exposure or putting unnecessary strain on the health system. Since many routine appointments may be cancelled when there is an overwhelming need for medical attention, you should also call ahead before any previously scheduled appointments to see if your doctor is still available or if a virtual visit is an option.

During a health crisis, it’s more important than ever to care for your health at home, including your oral and mental health.  Practice good oral hygiene, and if you need to see a dentist, see if teledentistry is available to you. And if you’re under the care of a mental health professional, a telehealth visit can help you get the support you need when visiting in person is not an option.

Telemedicine and COVID -19

Professionals recommend using telehealth services if you suspect you may have COVID -19.

  • Patients with a fever, cough or other COVID -19 symptoms should call their primary care provider or their state’s coronavirus hotline to get initial guidance
  • Patients with minor symptoms may be instructed to self-quarantine at home and call back if their symptoms get worse
  • If a patient is experiencing severe symptoms, they may be directed to a nearby testing location or hospital2

Telemedicine isn’t just a convenience. When dealing with highly contagious diseases, telehealth services can save lives by limiting interactions between sick and vulnerable people. By taking advantage of telehealth services for minor health problems, you can free up medical resources for the people who need them most while keeping yourself safe.

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“Remote Patient Monitoring,” Center for Connected Health Policy 3/20


"What to do if you think you have coronavirus,” Business Insider 3/20

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