The Rise of Telemedicine
Telemedicine, a means of practicing health care from a distance using telecommunication technologies, is giving patients options beyond the traditional office walls. And so far, the results have been promising.
The American Academy of Family Physicians issued a policy statement saying it supports telemedicine when conducted in a manner supportive of longitudinal care—meaning care that documents important disease prevention and goals—and within the context of appropriate standards of care. And patients seem to be on board, too: In fact, telemedicine is projected to explode to an expected seven million U.S. patients by 2018, up from 350,000 in 2013, according to a Physician Trends Report.
Here are a few reasons why telemedicine is here to stay:
It’s more convenient: Instead of booking an appointment an average of 24 days in advance, and then sitting around forever in a waiting room—the average wait time for a doctor’s appointment in the U.S. is 18 minutes and 13 seconds—patients can communicate with their doctor at a time that’s convenient for them. Some telemedicine companies offer direct email communication with primary care doctors, while others make it possible for patients to exchange text-like messages with board-certified physicians. Others provide video and telephone appointments for common ailments like the flu. Many of these services are fully accessible through smartphones or tablets, meaning doctors can prescribe medications and diagnose simple issues virtually—no in-person visit required.
It’s more comfortable: Sometimes just sitting in a doctor’s office—especially the waiting room—can be stressful on patients. With telemedicine, people can get the care they need while lying in bed or posting up on the couch.
It’s easier to stay organized: With so much paperwork to keep track of, telemedicine can give people the tools they need to keep their documents organized. Several telemedicine services allow users to store their past messages and medical records in a secure, password-protected app that they can access at any time.
It can save money: In the past, the only way to receive a doctor’s input on even the simplest question was to set up an office visit, which usually involved a copay and potentially other fees. Telemedicine eliminates the need for an office visit. This kind of virtual care often comes with a smaller fee, and sometimes it’s even free! Based on a Value in Health study examining video medical visits for over 11,281 patients over 17.5 years, if telemedicine served as a replacement for 100 percent of in-office visits, it would save nearly nine years of travel time, five million miles, and almost 3 million dollars in costs.
To get started, patients can talk to their doctor about any telemedicine options they may offer or if they would be open to the idea. In addition, people can explore companies, apps, and services that provide telemedicine, and see if they are offered nearby and covered by the appropriate insurance plan.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.