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For patients

What is telehealth?

Hearing a lot about telehealth lately? It is not a coincidence. Telehealth is a great way to get the health care you need while still practicing social distancing.

What does telehealth mean?

Telehealth — sometimes called telemedicine — is the use of electronic information and telecommunication technologies to provide care when you and the doctor are not in the same place at the same time. If you have a phone or a device with internet access, you already have everything you need to get medical care or services through telehealth — you may be able to:

  • Talk to your doctor live over the phone or video chat.
  • Send and receive messages from your doctor using chat messaging, email, secure messaging, and secure file exchange.
  • Use remote patient monitoring so your doctor can check on you at home. For example, you might use a device to gather ECG or other vitals to help your doctor stay informed on your progress.

Did you know?

Recent federal policy changes about technology use now allow you to receive care using tools that you may already be using. During the COVID-19 public health emergency, doctors may use popular video chat applications with patients — including Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, Zoom, or Skype. Ask your doctor what they use at their office.

What types of care can I get using telehealth?

You might be surprised by the variety of care you can get through telehealth. Services like medication management and online counseling are particularly suited to telehealth as consistent and regular visits improve outcomes. Your doctor will decide whether telehealth is right for your health needs.

If you need care — especially during COVID-19 — it is worth checking to see what your telehealth options are.

For example, you may meet with a doctor in real-time to discuss:

  • Lab test or x-ray results
  • Therapy and online counseling
  • Recurring conditions like migraines or urinary tract infections
  • Skin conditions
  • Prescription management
  • Urgent care issues like colds, coughs, and stomach complaints
  • Post-surgical follow-up

Doctors may ask you to:

  • Send blood pressure, blood sugar, or other condition monitoring information
  • Send images of how a wound, eye, or skin condition is healing
  • Document symptoms
  • Request medical records sent to another doctor (x-rays to a physical therapist for example)

Doctors can send information to you like:

  • Notifications to remind you to do rehabilitation exercises or take a critical medication
  • Encouragement to stick with your treatment plan
  • New suggestions for improving diet, mobility, or stress management
  • Detailed instructions on how to continue your care at home

Benefits of telehealth

Although virtual visits may not be as common as traditional in person doctor’s appointments, there are many benefits that explain why this type of care is growing in popularity.

  • Limiting physical contact reduces everyone’s exposure to COVID-19
  • Visiting virtually can address health issues wherever patients are, even from the comfort of home
  • Staying put cuts down on commuting, travel in bad weather, time off from work, need for child care
  • Using virtual health care tools can shorten wait times to see a provider and expand the range of access to specialists who live further away

Telehealth is not a perfect fit for everyone or every medical condition. Make sure you discuss any disadvantages or risks with your doctor.

Get tips for finding a doctor who provides telehealth.

Telehealth: What to Know for Your Family (PDF) — from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid

Disclaimer: The reference to named video- and text-based communications software for telehealth is informational and not intended as an endorsement of those services.

Last updated: May 19, 2021

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