Posted by Christina Vanvuren , January 19, 2019 (last updated on November 20, 2020)
It’s 2019 and technology is advancing more quickly than ever before. Just five years ago, ordering groceries through a mobile app and having them delivered to your front door was somewhat revolutionary. Today, wearable technology is all the rage, promising to help you sleep better, eat more mindfully, and even alert your friends or family if you’re in a potentially unsafe situation. Technology is getting smarter every day.
When it comes to healthcare, the same is true. In an industry that is known for being slow to adopt new technology (and new policy), strides are being made every day to bring patient-focused technology to doctor’s offices, urgent care centers, and emergency rooms.
One of the major players is known as telehealth and the segment of it known as telemedicine. What started as a way to reach patients in remote locations has evolved and been integrated into all types of healthcare facilities. As telehealth becomes more popular, it also becomes more affordable — a potential solution for the ever-rising healthcare costs that so many patients deal with.
Learn more about how telemedicine works, what types of services you can receive this technology, pros and cons of telemedicine, and who should use it.
What is telemedicine? And why is it so popular?
Telemedicine refers to remote clinical services that utilize electronic communications and software to facilitate health care without an in-person visit. Telemedicine technology can be used for a number of different services include medication management, management of chronic health conditions, consultations, and follow-up visits. These services are conducted via secure video and audio connections, typically on a mobile device or computer.
Traditionally used to treat patients in remote places, telehealth is now used in many different healthcare settings, including convenient care facilities. Within healthcare, one of the most hot-button topics is patient expectation. As a patient, you may not be privy to this discussion very often but, rest assured, it’s on every doctor’s mind.
Now that about 77% of Americans own smartphones and can use their mobile devices to do a nearly endless number of tasks and activities, people are expecting more from healthcare. In fact, many patients expect their experience at a healthcare facility to live up to their experience with brands, restaurants, and retail stores. One of the most common demands patients have of their healthcare providers is convenient, more affordable care. To meet this demand, doctors and their staff have begun to adopt telemedicine technology.
What types of services are available through telemedicine?
Just like you may wonder what you can be treated for at urgent care, you might also want to know what services you can use telemedicine for. After all, a doctor can’t set a broken bone through your phone screen (though that would certainly be convenient!). Let’s take a look at the most popular telemedicine medical specialties and which health conditions you can use telemedicine for.
Top Telemedicine Medical Specialties
As mentioned earlier, healthcare is often slow to embrace new technology. However, this isn’t true for all sectors of healthcare. Some specialties were early adopters and, due to that, have a competitive edge. These specialties include:
- Telepsychiatry — As defined by the American Psychiatric Association, telepsychiatry is “a subset of telemedicine, can involve providing a range of services including psychiatric evaluations, therapy (individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy), patient education and medication management.” Especially for patients with severe anxiety or physical limitations, being able to consult with a psychiatrist or psychologist using telemedicine technology can prove incredibly effective.
- Teledermatology — Patients can utilize dermatology services remotely by sending a photo of a rash, mole, or other skin issue virtually, eliminating the need for an in-person visit. It’s true that an in-person follow-up may be required if a biopsy is necessary but, still, time and money can be saved by using telemedicine first.
- Teleophthalmology — Through live video calling or “store-and-forward” technology (i.e. sending a picture to your ophthalmologist) patients can receive eye exams without leaving their home or office. Teleophthalmology is especially useful for diagnosing eye infections.
- Teleoncology — Offering more convenient care to patients with cancer, teleoncology makes it easier to consult with specialists who may not be easily accessible from certain locations. Photo sharing and live video calling are used in this specialty.
- Teleobsterics — Pregnant? Not only can you go to urgent care for pregnancy-related health services, you can get prenatal care using telemedicine. One example of this is recording the baby’s heartbeat in one place and having it reviewed by a physician in another.
- Telerehabilitation — Patients who need physical therapy can receive video consultations instead of heading into an office.
One of the most promising uses of telemedicine across all medical specialties is the ability to consult with specialists you — or your physician — may not have had access to otherwise.
What services can be provided via telemedicine?
Now that you better understand some of the ways healthcare is utilizing telemedicine, let’s take a look at some specific medical conditions you can have analyzed and diagnosed via virtual appointment:
- Asthma and respiratory and sinus infections
- Colds and flu
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Insect bites
- Conjunctivitis (or pink eye)
- Skin rashes, infections, or inflammation
- Sore throats
- Sprained or strained bones
- Bladder infections and UTIs
- Sports injuries
- Other physical injuries
- Vomiting, heartburn, and nausea
- Joint aches and pain
- Small wounds and cuts
Telemedicine can also be used to review lab or test results, ask your doctor questions that came up after an in-person visit, or follow-up on treatments and prescriptions.
Pros and Cons of Telemedicine in 2019
There are many advantages to telemedicine but nothing is perfect; there are some drawbacks to utilizing technology over traditional healthcare. However, as cons to using telemedicine are observed, solutions are being created.
Pros of Telemedicine Technology
- More accessible care for patients — Particularly patients who live in more rural areas, accessibility to healthcare can be a big issue. Telemedicine relieves this problem, allowing patients to be treated by high-quality physicians located outside of their physical area.
- More convenient care — If you hate driving to the doctor and sitting in waiting rooms, telemedicine is the solution. Instead of waiting, you just log on to the app or website at a scheduled time. While urgent care is incredibly convenient, especially compared to the ER or your regular doctor’s office, telemedicine takes it to a new level.
- More affordable care — Healthcare costs are on everyone’s mind these days. With rising deductibles and more out-of-pocket payment responsibility, many patients avoid care that they need when they can’t afford to pay. Especially as telemedicine becomes more popular, it also becomes more affordable. Since telemedicine visits require fewer resources, patients can expect to pay less than they would for an in-office visit.
- Increased access to specialists — Where you may have had to drive to another state for a specialist in the past, telemedicine allows you access without even getting out of bed.
- Higher quality care for every patient — Doctors have long been trying to provide high-quality care to each of their patients which is not an easy task when you’re overworked and don’t have enough resources to go around. Telemedicine eliminates some of this burden, meaning you get more time with your doctor.
Cons of Telemedicine Technology
- Fewer in-person consultations — While this is also considered a positive, some patients and physicians find that in-person visits allow for a deeper level of connection and rapport to be built.
- Poor internet connection could prevent care — Unfortunately, telemedicine does rely on a strong internet connection on both ends. If either the patient or provider is experiencing a lack of connectivity, call quality will be affected and the care needed may not be provided.
- Reduced care continuity — This is especially an issue when it comes to mental health telemedicine services. Some apps allow patients to chat anonymously with psychologists and therapists, which prevents follow-up. If a person is at high risk for mental health conditions, this could create serious issues.
- Technical training and equipment — Of course, providers will have to be trained in using telemedicine technology. Patients, too, may run into some trouble getting set up to effectively and efficiently use telemedicine tools.
When should you use telemedicine services?
The beauty of telemedicine is that it’s available almost all the time. Whether you can’t get away from your office or you’re traveling and need to speak with your provider, telemedicine affords you access from anywhere there’s an internet connection. Some great times to use telemedicine services include (but aren’t limited to):
- When you’re on vacation
- If your doctor’s office is closed
- If you aren’t sure whether you should go to urgent care or wait until your doctor’s office reopens
- If you have kids at home and don’t want to take them all to the doctor
- If you need a prescription refill
- If you want to hear your lab results
- If you can’t afford to take time off work
- If you want to save money on healthcare
Nearly any service you can get at urgent care, you can also receive through telemedicine — and then some. Obviously, physical treatment will need to be done in-person. Still, telemedicine is a great option for receiving a diagnosis before coming in, potentially saving you a trip. If you do need to head to urgent care, be sure to book an appointment online through Solv — patients who use Solv wait, on average, only 8 minutes to be seen by a provider.