With quarantines, lockdowns and shelter in place orders spreading across the country, many things have changed, but many have not. Many Americans still have a regular need for medical care, totally unrelated to COVID-19. Unfortunately, many medical practices have temporarily suspended office visits. That doesn’t mean, though, that you can’t have access to medical care. In many instances, it simply means that medical assessment will be done online—the concept is known as “telemedicine.”
What Is Telemedicine?
At its most fundamental level, telemedicine is nothing more than communication between a patient and a medical professional through telecommunications—at a distance through hardwire or the Ethernet. In its early days (there were experiments with telemedicine in the 1950s), it was little more than a video camera that transmitted a live feed to a doctor. In today’s world, it typically involves either an app or a software solution that allows patients and doctors to engage in live video conferencing. Examples include FaceTime, Skype, Zoom and other meeting apps/programs. Home access to medical tools, such as blood pressure devices, thermometers and blood sugar testing kits, can make the process more effective.
The Advantages of Telemedicine
Telemedicine offers a number of tangible benefits:
- It’s convenient—Telemedicine makes things easier for physicians and patients. Patients don’t have to leave their home, spend time on the road, or worry about traveling when ill. Doctors can minimize the space allocated to examination rooms and can provide a basic level of care to individuals who may live in remote areas or have travel restrictions.
- It’s typically more accessible—With telemedicine, patients don’t have to sit in a waiting room. An appointment can be made where the doctor calls the patient back.
- It’s safe—With telemedicine, potentially infected individuals can effectively stay quarantined. Medical professionals are not exposed to contagious disease and other patients are not put at risk.
- It’s potentially more cost-effective—Studies have shown that telemedicine can bring about significant costs savings by reducing unnecessary ER or urgent care visits, minimizing the likelihood that patients won’t take prescribed medications, and making the typical doctor visit more efficient.
- It can be easier to obtain access to medical specialists—With telemedicine, it’s easier for a primary care doctor to consult with a specialist, and potentially easier for the patient to be examined by the specialist. An x-ray that needs to be reviewed by a radiology expert may be done virtually instantaneously by digitally sharing the pictures.