Answers to Your Most Common Questions About Telemedicine

Telemedicine not only limits transmitting viruses, like COVID-19, it also increases access to care

By Karla Walsh

No doctor’s office handy or available? No problem. Telemedicine can ensure that even those who are too distant or too immunocompromised to visit a physical doctor’s office can access medical care.

What is Telehealth vs. Telemedicine?

Telehealth and telemedicine are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two terms.
“Telehealth is a broader term than telemedicine, encompassing more aspects of healthcare that can be done remotely, including education, administration, public health, and other non-clinical activities,” explains Elizabeth Krupinski, Ph.D., the University of Arizona co-director for the Southwest Telehealth Resource Center and associate director of evaluation for the Arizona Telemedicine Program. “Telemedicine refers specifically to the delivery of clinical services remotely using a variety of technologies.”

What are the Major Telemedicine Benefits and Drawbacks?

Telemedicine increases access to care and reduces travel. It can also increase satisfaction for patients and providers because it can cut down on hospital admissions and potential wait times, trims costs, improves health outcomes, and more, according to Krupinski. During times of increased risk of disease transmission, including the COVID-19 pandemic, it also keeps everyone more protected from transmitting viruses.
“There are few cons, but rather some challenges,” Krupinski says. “Not everyone has access to technology; not all of telemedicine is reimbursed by insurance; and some state and federal laws restrict the practice of telemedicine.”
Expect that your first visit will last 30 to 60 minutes, and follow-ups will usually be quick — around 15 minutes.
“Having an established relationship with a provider obviously makes the visit easier as they already know who you are and what’s in your health history,” Krupinski says.

What Technology Do You Need for Telemedicine?

Telemedicine relies on technology, so a secure internet connection is necessary. But if you don’t have access to that at home, alternatives exist.
“Kiosks offer direct-to-consumer telemedicine in some communities, and many hospitals and clinics have arrangements with places like public health offices, senior centers, and community centers to offer sites that are secure and decked out with the technology necessary to carry out a telemedicine visit,” Krupinski says. “During COVID-19, smartphones with certain programs have a mode to do telemedicine, and hopefully, this will remain until the pandemic calms down.”
Call or email your current — or potential — provider to inquire about telemedicine options and what technology you might need to participate.

What Kind of Care Can Telemedicine Include, and Does Medicare Cover It?

“Mental and behavioral health is one of the most common uses of telemedicine for all ages,” Krupinski says. “It’s very effective, since it offers an easy way to seek consistent, frequent care for things like substance abuse and depression.”
Certain prescription administrations and refills can be done via telemedicine — as can virtual check-ins and e-visits from professionals, including doctors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and more. Most often, Medicare patients pay 20% while their coverage handles the rest. Call or email your provider to confirm, and watch the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website throughout the COVID-19 pandemic since it’s a rapidly evolving situation and government coverage levels may change.

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