The rise of telemedicine
The onset of Covid has changed our way of life in remarkable ways, perhaps forever. Among them is the spike in popularity and use of telemedicine: consulting with your medical professional virtually, using an internet enabled device (smartphone, desktop, iPad, etc.)
Telemedicine has been around for a few years, so why the sudden spike? Besides the obvious reason: the shelter-in-place and the ongoing need for social distancing, there are also other factors. For one, both the quality of internet connections as well as the quality of telemedicine software have improved dramatically in the last 5 years (though still not without glitches, unfortunately!). Another important factor is insurance coverage: the Corona pandemic has led Medicare and many private payors to reimburse physicians for virtual consultations.
But one critical factor is still perhaps missing: the sense of comfort that many patients say they feel in-person with their healthcare provider, and the bond of trust it builds between doctor and patient.
How then can we use telemedicine effectively?
Telemedicine isn’t appropriate for emergency situations like heart attack or stroke, cuts or lacerations, or broken bones that require x-rays, splints, or casts. Anything that requires immediate, hands-on care should be handled in person. More generally, anything that requires a “physical exam” can only happen face-to-face.
On the other hand, telemedicine is very useful for simple issues and follow-up consultations. For instance, if you suspect that a cut may be infected, you can schedule a virtual consultation with your healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms. If you’re on vacation and think you’re coming down with something, you can communicate with your primary care physician. If you need a medication refill, you can chat through your needs and get a prescription.
And then there is the promise of future potential. Through video conferencing, everyone – including people in rural and remote areas– can have access to the healthcare system, both for “routine” needs and for specialist care when required.
Your healthcare professional is in the best position to decide what can be done remotely and what requires you to be seen in person. But if you’re on the fence about telemedicine: give it a try and see how you feel about it!