YOU’VE PROBABLY HEARD the term “telemedicine.” You may be wondering what it really is, and what it means to you and your health care. Is it going to replace your relationship with your physician? Is it something you should be nervous about or embrace? Let’s explore telemedicine and see if we can answer these questions.
What is telemedicine? A new position paper from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology defines it as “the use of technology to deliver health care, health information or health education at a distance.” It allows health care providers the opportunity to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients without the need for an in-person visit. You may be thinking, “I can call my physician on the phone if I’m having a problem or need a prescription refilled, so is that ‘telemedicine’?” In simple terms, no. To be considered a true telemedicine visit, there needs to be interactivity. It requires contact with your health care provider as if you were there in person, seeing and hearing them – and them seeing and hearing you. Thanks to the development of more mobile health applications and medical devices, telemedicine can bring the medical office to you.
Originally, telemedicine was used to treat patients in remote areas, far from any health facilities, or in areas with health care provider shortages. Today, telemedicine is increasingly becoming a tool for convenient medical care. So why would you want a telemedicine visit with your health care provider, when you could go see them locally and get that personal touch? In many cases, it does make more sense to have an in-person visit. But there are times when a telemedicine visit may be more appropriate.
With today’s busy lifestyles, you may not want to waste time in the waiting room at the doctor’s office when you can have a telemedicine visit from your home or workplace. Telemedicine may also be a better option for you to get immediate care when you need it for minor conditions such as pink eye and urinary tract infections.
What are some of the other advantages of telemedicine? It can lead to better quality care with more health care provider interaction. There can be more frequent follow-ups to manage chronic conditions. It may also be a quicker way to get a second opinion on a medical diagnosis. Generally, telemedicine encounters are less costly than in-person visits, which could save you money.
Telemedicine must be done securely and safely to follow HIPAA rules – in the same way an office visit must protect your privacy.
Surveys on patient satisfaction with telemedicine visits get high marks. But there are downsides to telemedicine you should know about. Not all procedures you may need can be done remotely, and often that personal touch can’t be replaced.
Along with primary care physicians, many specialists are now embracing telemedicine. We are seeing an increasing number of dermatologists, radiologists and psychiatrists performing telemedicine visits and consultations. Allergy is one of the top conditions for which patients seek telemedicine visits for care. Many allergists now do initial visits by telemedicine and determine if in-office testing is required. For certain types of follow-up visits to an allergist, such as a check-up on how a medication or allergen immunotherapy is doing, telemedicine can save you time and money. By finding a board-certified allergist practicing telemedicine, you can now more easily and quickly get relief from your allergy misery.