Committing to an in-person doctor's appointment isn't always easy, whether it's the waiting room anxiety, risk of exposure, or the time needed away from work. And as we all know, what began as COVID-era safety protocols quickly evolved into new (and more permanent) patient care and safety expectations.
Telehealth is a rapidly expanding option that offers convenience, privacy, and medical care from the comfort of your home: shoes optional.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth—or telemedicine—allows patients and healthcare providers to ditch the doctor's office and conduct virtual appointments using computers, smartphones, or other devices.
And it looks like telehealth is here to stay: According to the healthcare advisory firm Sage Growth Partners, 56% of hospitals and 70% of private practices plan to continue or enhance their telehealth programs in 2023 and beyond.
What to Expect
Just like with in-person visits, providers must ensure patient privacy and safety. But in this case, you can expect to see secure client portals, password-protected video chats, or messaging platforms. Consultations via phone call may also be used for minor health concerns like allergies or a mild cough.
Benefits of Choosing Telehealth
Why choose virtual visits? Read on for some reasons that will even have your dog convinced:
Cost and Convenience
This one's obvious. Save time, minimize exposure to other people's germs, and cut commutes while still accessing quality care from your home or office. You can even find numerous veterinary telehealth options to reduce car sickness or veterinary office anxiety for your pets.
Access to a Broader Network of Care
With patients no longer limited to the medical providers in their immediate area, they have more options for long-term well-being.
For instance, a small-town mental health counselor's office may be incapable of accepting new patients. But the good news is that prospective clients can now expand their search to any licensed therapist who offers virtual appointments. You may even be able to find and work with specialists that aren't locally available but offer the tailored care you need.
Telehealth services may be helping to incentivize the workforce and keep kids in school. And access to affordable, convenient healthcare can have long-term, positive effects beyond our wallets and households.
When (and When Not) to Use Telehealth
Telehealth may offer a practical alternative for the diagnosis and treatment of health issues like:
colds, coughs, minor flu, stomach aches, rashes, or recurring migraines
test results or follow-up
mental health counseling or therapy
It's important to note that while telehealth can be a convenient supplement to your health and wellness toolkit, it's not meant to replace all in-person exams or consultations. Consult your regular physician about the best way to incorporate virtual services into your health and wellness plan.
Getting Started with Telehealth
Fortunately, numerous resources are available to help consumers understand how telehealth works and how to incorporate this tool into a healthy lifestyle. Because privacy and reimbursement policies can vary by state, it may also be helpful to familiarize yourself with your particular state guidelines or employer benefit plans.
A great starting point for anyone interested in learning more about telehealth basics is Telehealth.HHS.gov. The site covers everything from finding providers, prepping for your first virtual consultation, and navigating telehealth technology.