Integrating Telehealth Into Your Healthcare Routine
These days, we’re all looking to save time, save money, and still manage to take care of ourselves. That can be an ongoing challenge, as there always seems to be more to do, more to learn, and more complexity added to our lives. There’s no question that doctor visits are important to properly manage your health. But, too often, they are a hassle—especially for relatively minor things like renewing a prescription or managing an existing condition. That’s where telehealth can help.
Taking hours off from work or hours out of your day, sitting around an office with sick people, waiting in a room for a long time, just to have 5 minutes of face time with the doctor—and a several hundred-dollar bill for the experience—just doesn’t seem productive or valuable to many people. Now, with telehealth services, that can all be bypassed. You can access board-certified medical professionals for phone, text, or video appointments, all from the comfort of your home. There’s a lot more to telehealth than that, of course, and we’ll discuss the basics and benefits in more detail below.
The main focus of this article is to discuss how to integrate telehealth into your healthcare routine. Understanding telehealth care, what it can and can’t treat, and how it can ideally be used, is critical to effectively making it part of your healthcare toolbox. When put in a proper context and used appropriately, telemedical services can result in less time and money spent on doctor’s visits and greater control over your health, which typically leads to better overall health—the ultimate goal of healthcare.
The Basics of Telehealth
First, it’s useful to understand some of the basics of what telehealth is and how it works. That lays the framework for understanding how to integrate it into your life in an effective way. Also, it’s important to note that the specifics of any telehealth or telemedicine service will depend on the service itself, differences in jurisdictions and rules, the service’s capabilities and features, and other factors. Therefore, while we attempt to stick to general terms and descriptions, it’s always best to do your own research and look at the details associated with any telehealth services you may wish to try.
Telehealth is essentially remote health services that allow patients and doctors to interact at a distance. Most commonly, this takes the form of phone calls, text chats, and/or video chats, but it may encompass other aspects of healthcare as well. Telehealth and telemedicine can be applied to a number of different services, including those most often associated with delivering healthcare services to rural areas or developing nations. In the US, most often, telemedical services refer to either the telehealth offerings associated with a doctor’s office or hospital or dedicated telemedicine providers who specialize in remote health offerings. Telehealth services that offer online appointments, prescription services, and related features have become more common in recent years, and are what most people think of these days when they see the term “telehealth” or “telemedicine”.
Most often, modern telehealth services provide on-demand or scheduled appointments, via video conferencing through a smartphone, tablet, or computer. They may also offer text-based chats and email service, or conventional voice/phone appointments. Typically, they treat and help patients manage a specific set of conditions or concerns, including medication and prescription management. They are not designed to diagnose or treat emergent problems, but are staffed by fully licensed and accredited doctors; the limitations in conditions, diagnoses, and treatments are largely a function of the remote nature of telehealth.
For these reasons, most people would say that telehealth falls somewhere in between at-home first aid or self-directed healthcare and a traditional doctor’s visit. It fills a niche in the market between those two scenarios and can be considered a “doctor visit lite” for all intents and purposes.
What Telemedicine Can and Can’t Treat
Most telehealth providers offer to treat a certain list of conditions or complaints. This is typically a function of jurisdictional limitations, professional or ethical obligations, and the specialties or practices of the doctors offering services. Naturally, the specific offerings of a surgeon who may provide telehealth services to his patients will differ from those of a general practitioner.
When it comes to dedicated telehealth or telemedicine providers, however, the most common range of conditions they treat are those that they can accurately diagnose and treat remotely, without direct hands-on observation of the patient. Obviously, the ability to manipulate or examine a patient is limited over a video conference or phone call. Therefore, both practically and ethically, it’s not possible to diagnose or treat many internal or emergent conditions—those that would require a physical examination and/or laboratory testing to confirm.
However, that still leaves a fairly substantive list of conditions and services that can be offered by most telehealth providers. While not every provider will offer the same set of treatment options—and you should always check with your chosen telemedicine provider’s website or documentation on what they treat—the following are among the most common:
- Rashes/skin complaints
- Acne/pimples/other skin conditions
- Male sexual health/erectile dysfunction
- Baldness or hair loss
- Cold sores
- Management of chronic conditions
- Athlete’s foot
- Urinary tract infections
- Smoking cessation
- Management of cholesterol and blood pressure
- Colds, flu, and other minor complaints
- Mental health conditions
More specialized practitioners may offer pain management, sports medicine, and rehabilitation services, acute care/referrals to specialists or hospitals, or a focus on one or more body systems, e.g., ophthalmology, gastroenterology, etc. This is more common with the telehealth offerings of these specialists’ practices or a hospital or medical group than with dedicated telehealth services.
The Benefits of Telemedical Services
There are several key benefits provided to patients who choose to utilize telehealth services. If properly integrated into an overall healthcare and health maintenance regimen, telemedical services offer improved outcomes for patients, often at a lower cost with less time investment and less hassle than traditional doctor’s visits. Some of these benefits include:
- Telehealth services allow patients to have access to a doctor on their own schedule when they need it. This can result in increased healthcare participation and ownership on the part of patients and, thus, better health outcomes overall.
- Many telehealth services allow on-demand or short lead-time appointments, within an hour or less of the time a patient requests. This is a far cry from most doctor’s offices, where routine appointments must often be scheduled weeks or months in advance.
- With telehealth services, there is no long wait in the waiting room or in an exam room. You can connect with your doctor via your chosen communication method at the appointed time and cut out hours of waiting.
- Another benefit of telehealth is that you don’t have to be around other people prior to your appointment. Many people are hesitant to visit doctor’s offices, particularly for a wellness/healthy visit, since they will be around many other people during their visit, often people who may be very sick and contagious.
- Most telehealth providers offer flexible communication options that may include videoconferencing, voice calls, and text-based chats. This gives patients the ability to choose the communication style that most aligns with their preferences and feels the most useful to them.
- In addition, telehealth provides increased medical access for vulnerable populations, such as those without transportation, those with disabilities, and older individuals–all of whom may have a hard time making it to a traditional doctor’s appointment.
- Telehealth services provide added discretion. Many people find it easier to talk to a remote doctor—someone who doesn’t live in their community or whom they don’t have to see in person—about sensitive topics like erectile dysfunction. Consequently, they are more likely to seek and obtain effective treatment through telehealth.
- Most telehealth companies charge relatively low rates for their services compared to a traditional doctor’s office. The lower overhead costs translate into savings for patients.
- One of the most frequent services people seek from telehealth companies is prescription writing or medication management. Some telemedicine providers have affiliated pharmacies and can instantly transfer a prescription written in your appointment to the pharmacy and have it filled and shipped to your home. This can save you additional time and money.
- Like a traditional doctor’s visit, telehealth providers use HIPAA-compliant policies and technologies to ensure that your medical and payment information is kept confidential and secure. In fact, it’s more likely to be safe and secure with a telemedicine provider since their entire business relies on digital data and keeping it secure, whereas that may be a secondary consideration for most conventional doctor’s practices.
How to Integrate Telemedicine Into Your Healthcare Routine
Given all the above information about how telehealth works, the range of treatment options available, limitations, and benefits, patients can develop their own plan as to how best to integrate telehealth into their healthcare routine. It’s important to keep telehealth and its use in context—it’s not a replacement for a doctor or hospital visit for diagnosing emergency conditions or when a physical exam or intervention is required. However, it can be a great addition to an overall wellness and health management plan, cutting down on cost and time spent at traditional doctor’s offices while making healthcare more convenient—especially for existing conditions and medication management.
The best way to integrate telehealth into your healthcare routine is to find a reputable telehealth company, review its offerings, and see what kind of services they offer that would fit your health concerns and needs. Then, try an appointment—you’re under no obligation to continue if you don’t find value in the service. If satisfied, you can transition some of your healthcare issues and management to that telehealth provider. They are ideal for addressing the kinds of health conditions they typically treat, where a doctor’s visit wouldn’t really be required—and would typically take more time, effort, money, and/or discomfort than necessary.
That said, it’s important to remember—so we’ll say it again—that telehealth providers are not a substitute for an in-person doctor visit, specialist visit, lab testing, imaging, or other health services. If you are experiencing a severe and acute condition—even one that may be within the purview of a telehealth provider—it’s best to get emergency medical help right away.
The Future of Telehealth Services
In the near future, additional telehealth treatment and service options will likely become available. As we become more and more digital and connected, and our healthcare information becomes more portable, it is conceivable that the number of conditions and capabilities of telehealth providers will grow exponentially over the next 5 to 10 years. That trend, coupled with the proliferation of affordable home healthcare equipment and a greater emphasis on personal health in society, will hopefully work to decrease mortality and disease incidence, increase overall health, and provide longer, healthier lives for more people than ever before.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are telehealth services legal?
Absolutely! Telehealth services are operated by licensed medical professionals and are fully legal within the US. Legality, treatment options, and other restrictions may vary in other jurisdictions, though some form of telehealth is generally available in most developed countries today.
How can I choose a quality telemedicine provider?
To find a quality telehealth provider, you want to check their online reviews, medical staff credentials, service offerings, costs and fees, and compare them with their peers. Leading telehealth providers typically charge reasonable fees for appointments, and will be based in the US, with board-certified medical staff. They should have few, if any, complaints with relevant licensing boards, the BBB, FTC, or similar regulatory agencies. Their costs and policies should be fully explained and available for members on their website, and sign-up or account creation should be entirely free.
Do telehealth services take insurance?
Most telehealth services do not accept or bill insurance. This is one way in which they keep costs down for consumers, as insurance billing and integration are enormous costs for most medical offices. However, that does not mean you cannot submit your bills to your insurer for reimbursement, or claim them as unreimbursed medical expenses for tax purposes. In general, however, telehealth services charge much less than traditional doctor’s offices, such that a telehealth appointment ends up costing less out-of-pocket than a traditional appointment does prior to meeting your annual insurance deductible.
For Modern and Fast Telehealth Service, Choose Telegra MD
If you’re interested in giving telehealth a try, then we strongly encourage you to choose Telegra MD as your provider. Telegra MD offers a full range of services and treatment options, including prescription management, an associated pharmacy, and much more. They offer three different ways to communicate: via voice chat/phone call, text-based, email or live chat, or via two-way videoconference. Appointments are available with as little as 10 minutes of lead time, or as scheduled further in advance. The team at Telegra MD is fully board-certified and dedicated to providing accessible and affordable healthcare for their patients. For just $49, you can have a telehealth appointment from the comfort and convenience of your home, office, or even on the go!