By Kathy Finley, Director of Family Services at Concierge Care Advisors
I was reading in my AARP monthly magazine and saw an article on telemedicine and decided that I needed to do more research on this. This concept of remote medicine has been around for more than a century. The telegraph, radio and satellite-based communication has been used to communicate to astronauts, people in very rural locations and people who require isolation as well as from one medical agency to another. We evolved to telephones, closed caption TV, video and audio conferencing, and faxing.
Now we have smart phone and computers to communicate with doctors and other medical professionals. I have read that one of the biggest fears about telemedicine is the technology. Many feel that they would not be able to figure out the applications on their phones or computers. I myself was feeling a little baffled about it when one of our Concierge Care Advisors showed me how to use Google Duo to live chat.
Many people feel more secure with these kind of doctor appointments because of the Covid-19 pandemic. They feel less exposed to the virus by not traveling, sitting in a waiting room (with a mask) and exposed to staff members of the office. As of last year, only 8 percent of Americans had ever used telemedicine. This has changed drastically, with some practitioners reporting that up to 95% of patient visits are now virtual. It is also helpful that insurance companies and health providers are on board with these “virtual” visits. These can include home patient monitoring and physician to physician consults.
Another program I read about is teleradiology, in which CT scans and MRIs are interpreted by radiologists who can be in another state or country than the patient’s doctor. Telemedicine is invaluable to those who cannot drive. Often, taking public transportation to appointments can take many hours round trip. Now it will only take minutes out their day. Just think, no traffic and no parking lots and fees. People in the workforce can also take less unpaid leave or vacation time to get to their doctor appointments. They can make appointments on their lunch or break times. Now, cancer patients can be seen without having to travel to specialists who may be hours away, or even in a different state. Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida conducts 300 or more virtual visits a day. And Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston saw a 10 to 20- fold increase in telemedicine visits in late March. They have also found a marked decrease in ER visits.
The AARP article has a 6 step How-To-Guide to telemedicine:
- Consider your condition. Telemedicine is most effective for relatively mild conditions like allergies, colds, coughs, ear problems, sore throat, vomiting. You need to go to the ER for broken bones, serious burns, severe pain, high fever, and trouble breathing.
- Check your insurance. Check your provider’s website to verify coverage. There may be restrictions on which provider you see or what you use the telehealth visit for. Since March 2020, Medicare covers telehealth visits for the duration of the pandemic. (It is unclear how long this will be extended long-term)
- Pick a provider. This could be a primary care physician, urgent care centers, and some pharmacies. Be cautious of advertising that is designed to lure in new customers. Research the doctor or organizations that you are not familiar with.
- Prepare for the visit. Computer, tablet, or smartphone with camera (though some can be audio only by phone) Stable internet connection, quiet room with good lighting and your list of questions for the doctor or professional. You should also be prepared to list your current medications, a thermometer, blood-pressure monitor (if needed), blood sugar monitor (diabetes), flashlight (if doctor needs to examine your throat or other area).
- See the doctor. The provider will guide you to an internet link or initiate a video chat session through services like FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangout or Zoom. There will be initial screening questions like a normal visit. The doctor may listen to your breathing through the microphone and by observing through the camera. The doctor may have you do other self-diagnosis tests, such a pressing on your abdomen or swollen area and report what you felt.
- Follow instructions. This could be a referral for further testing or prescription medications. Make sure to take any recommended steps for further treatment.
I am also interested in the cost savings using telemedicine. One article stated the following: The average estimated cost of a telehealth visit is $40 to $50 per visit compared to the average estimated cost of $136 to $176 for in-person acute care. The average number of telehealth visits per patient is .3 visits/year. Of course, I will need to check with my insurance company. I only know a couple of people that have done the telehealth visit; they were both positive about the experience.