Many years ago, medical consultations with your doctor through your own computer or telephone screen would have seemed like something straight out of a sci-fi movie. However, given current world events and technological advances, it may sound surprising to realize it took a pandemic for telemedicine to become popular. The technology is available and health care professionals are getting on board. But, few people over the age of 50 have ever tried virtual medicine.
According to a poll done by the University of Michigan, most people over the age of 50 view in-person care as better, but half of the people polled report they would consider it for their primary care visits. So let’s discover the benefits of telehealth, and how to best prepare ourselves for not only today’s doctor’s appointments amongst COVID-19, but the way of future doctor appointments as well.
What is Telehealth
First off, you may be wondering what telehealth even is. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, telehealth refers to electronic and telecommunication technologies used to provide care and services from a distance. Telemedicine is a branch of this, meaning practicing medicine using technology to deliver services without in-person interactions.
Benefits of Virtual Medicine
So, are you tired of sitting in a large, cold waiting room for an hour just to be asked to move to the small waiting room for another half hour? Well, we all must admit that none of us want to be sick, much less spend half of our day seeking care. We, the consumer, want as few disruptions to daily life as possible. Since seeking care at a facility means a disruption to our daily routines, telemedicine could be a much more effective way to receive care in a more timely manner. Patients expect to not only have a good experience at their doctor visits, but they want quality care delivered in a convenient way. Telemedicine programs may be able to do just that.
Telehealth would make it easier for the consumer to keep an appointment rather than having to reschedule because something came up. It would also make it easier to schedule follow-up appointments for chronic conditions, request prescription refills, or simply seek a second opinion. And as COVID-19 carries on, many practices are limiting the number of people in an exam room. So, if an additional family member is needed to help understand care instructions, virtual visits can make this more accomodating, and therefore easier.
Other benefits to telehealth, and specifically virtual medicine consultations, include lower cost for the consumer and provider, greater accessibility to care, and slowing the spread of various infections. The latter is especially true for such a high-risk age group like seniors. However, despite these benefits, most consumers remain skeptical about using these platforms.
Disadvantages of Telehealth
It is important to note that despite all the benefits of virtual medicine and telehealth, there are some disadvantages to the consumer and the providers of such services. Just like medicine, one size does not fit all patient needs. Some of these drawbacks include:
- Not all insurers cover telemedicine. Currently only 26 states require insurance to cover telemedicine visits. However, in the face of the current pandemic, expect a lot more changes in telehealth.
- How does telemedicine keep us or our family members from falling prey to hackers and criminals? If you are currently using telemedicine services, ensure you or your loved one is using a private network or encrypted channel.
- Access to lab work typically still means a trip to the doctor’s office. That being said, there are some at-home laboratory test kits for various conditions that may be an option for you or your loved one.
- Emergency care could be delayed if you first try to access a virtual consultation. If you need emergency care, especially in a life threatening situation, please dial 911 and get emergency workers in route.
The Role of Telemedicine
Telemedicine is proving extremely useful during the current COVID-19 pandemic, as it limits consumer exposure. But what about when all this is over? Is telemedicine here to stay? Telemedicine has numerous benefits for patients that do not require a physical examination or certain laboratory testing. It can also be a fundamental way for rural areas to receive care when the nearest medical facility may be hundreds of miles away. Additionally, telemedicine can play an important role in the lives of our aging population, who may have trouble getting back and forth to the doctor when they rely on someone else to take them.
According to Dr. Preeti Malani, M.D. of the University of Michigan, “telehealth won’t replace in-person medical examinations completely, but for situations where in-person visits aren’t essential, they can save time and resources for patients and providers alike”. Telehealth is more than on-demand urgent care. It is becoming an integral component of the healthcare continuum. Telehealth meets the patient and their needs right where they are. It enables the consumer to get well with minimum disruption to their daily lives, so staying healthy becomes less of a burden.
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