Although it’s hard to predict what lifestyle changes people will keep when life goes back to normal after the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s at least one industry that has likely been revolutionized in substantial ways: healthcare. In fact, studies show that 83% of patients expect to continue using virtual appointments even after the pandemic resolves. What exactly is telehealth, and is it the right option for you? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is telehealth and why is it a good option right now?

Although telehealth existed prior to the pandemic, its popularity has really soared since Covid-19 reached our country. The ability to connect with and receive medical care virtually (generally through videoconferencing software that you can use directly on your home computer or phone) has become essential with regard to reducing overall exposure and driving down virus transmission. Connecting with your doctor over technology also allows doctors to save on precious in-person medical commodities – like personal protective equipment — and decreases the overall level of traffic in our taxed medical facilities.

Who is telehealth good for?

It’s important to understand that while a telehealth appointment may work for some patients, there are some situations where an in-person visit is still warranted. For example:

  • Any significant or emergency medical issues (like sudden chest pain, difficulty in breathing, or weakness to one side of the body or face) still necessitate a call to 911 or an immediate trip to the emergency room.[CL1] 
  • Pregnant women should also consult with their doctors to determine together which appointments should be done in the office (ultrasounds aren’t likely to be conducted at home, after all).
  • For children, it’s important to discuss staying on a proper check-up and vaccination schedule with their pediatrician.
  • Traditional preventative procedures — like colonoscopies and Pap smears — might be able to be put on hold for a while, but eventually they’ll need to be conducted in person.
  • Complex issues that require advanced equipment use — like an MRI after a fall — will likely require an in-person check-up.[CL2] 

In the case of most minor health issues or issues that are visible or easy to describe (like skin irritations or sneezes and sniffles), an initial telehealth visit can be helpful in either determining the cause and course of action for an issue or at least helping to decide whether an in-person visit is needed. A conversation with a doctor or nurse at your doctor’s office can help you both determine whether a telehealth visit will suffice, or if you’ll need to come in for further help. When you call the office, try to be as specific as you can about your symptoms — how long it’s been happening, how severe your pain is, and what has changed over time, for example — to help them determine the best course of action. [CL3] 

Telehealth has also proven to be extremely helpful in the case of mental health needs. Patients who have underlying health issues or are in some way immunocompromised and are at a greater risk for Covid-19 complications can also greatly benefit from telehealth opportunities where appropriate.  

How to prepare for a telehealth visit

Preparing for a telehealth visit doesn’t require a lot more than a traditional doctor’s visit would, but it does require a little extra attention when it comes to technology. For example:

  1. Find a good spot, with strong Internet access. One thing that a telehealth visit requires that a traditional appointment doesn’t is access to the Internet, and the technology to actually conduct the appointment. Be sure to have a phone or computer with up-to-date applications, and find a quiet place in your home with strong Internet access, so that your healthcare provider won’t have an issue hearing you and following along.
  2. Come prepared. This is good advice whether you’re attempting a telehealth visit or a regular one. Write down any questions you might have, and make a list of all the pertinent information you need to share with your doctor. If your problem involves a physical issue — like a rash, mole or other skin irritation — be prepared to either show your doctor during the appointment, or ask if you can take a photo to send afterwards, if that makes you more comfortable. Also be sure to have other important details on hand that you know your doctor might need, like your temperature and your blood pressure, for example.

Is telehealth an option for you?

Besides determining whether or not your specific healthcare needs are a good fit for telehealth appointments, you’ll also want to find out how and if telehealth is covered under your medical insurance. You can start by calling your healthcare provider to find out their specific coverage options, and check in with your doctor’s office to see how they charge for telehealth visits, specifically. Keep in mind that many providers — including Medicare and Medicaid — have expanded their telehealth coverage in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

There’s no denying that the Covid-19 pandemic has upended our lives, but if there’s a silver lining to be found, it might just be in the systems that we’ve more finely honed to make our lives easier and more streamlined. Telehealth appointments cut down on the need for patients to drive to and from appointments, and can be an easy way to gain quick access to excellent medical care. If you think telehealth could be a good fit for your own healthcare needs, be sure to speak with your insurance provider and your doctor to get the logistics figured out before you actually need care.