Wondering how to get started with telehealth? Check out the information below to better understand your options for virtual doctor’s visits.

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.

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.

Talk to your doctor about telehealth options

Doctors of many specialties are now integrating telehealth into their practice.

Here are some questions to ask when you call:

Find telehealth care through your health insurance

Your health insurance company can help you find doctors who provide virtual medical visits. They can also help you find telehealth companies who mainly operate through web-based portals or apps that can be downloaded onto your phone.

To find out about your options, check your insurance company’s website, see if they have a mobile app, or give them a call.

Find a health center

Health centers provide services regardless of patients’ ability to pay and services are charged on a sliding fee scale. Use this tool to find health centers that offer telehealth and free COVID-19 testing

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Health centers offer quality care to people with:

  • No health insurance

  • Medicaid

  • Medicare

  • Private health insurance

Find a health center 

Find on-demand telehealth options

Try this Digital Health Directory   to find telehealth companies that allow you to make on-demand virtual appointments with a doctor. Some services can be reimbursed by health insurance and some do not require health insurance but charge an out-of-pocket fee.

The directory also covers ongoing specialist services like patient monitoring, diabetes care, and mental health support (for example addiction services and online counseling).

Disclaimer: This list does not constitute an endorsement, certification, or recommendation of specific technology, software, applications, or products.

Emergency hotlines

  • For help with mental and/or substance use, visit the SAMHSA Helpline or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

  • For help if you have swallowed, splashed, or gotten stung by something, visit the Poison Help hotline or call 1-800-222-1222.

I don’t have health insurance

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, more people qualify for financial assistance and lower premiums on health insurance plans. Most customers can qualify for a plan that includes doctor visits, prescription medications, and preventive services for $10 per month, or less.

I don’t have internet access

If you have access to broadband internet service, but cannot pay the full cost, you may qualify for Lifeline  , a program that will apply up to $9.25 to your phone or internet service.

If your doctor uses a secure, password-protected portal, you may be able to access telehealth services at libraries, community centers, or other places offering internet access to the public. Video or phone discussions may not be advisable in a public environment, however.

Preparing for a virtual visit

Most telehealth visits will include video. All you will need for this is a smartphone or a device with an internet connection and audio-video capabilities, like a tablet or computer.

Getting comfortable with telehealth

If you have never had a health care visit that was not in-person, it might be hard to picture what a virtual visit or e-visit will be like.

A video visit is the closest telehealth option to an in-person visit. And the goal is to make it as much like an in-person appointment as possible.

Tip: Watch this video to learn more about what to expect from a telehealth visit  .

Telehealth privacy

If your telehealth appointment will address sensitive topics, think about the following before your appointment:

  • Will you be able to find a private place for the appointment? If not, think about finding a private location in your home, car, or at a friend’s house.

  • How to use options like email, text, or the telehealth platform’s chat feature to communicate privately with your doctor — especially if you are concerned about your personal safety and do not want others to hear your conversation.

Preparing for your virtual visit

There are a few things you can do ahead of time to help your virtual health visit run smoothly, especially if you are using video to talk with a doctor.

  • Write it down. Just like an in person visit, you will want to write down important information to make the best use of your time with the doctor.

    • Write down symptoms, questions, or concerns you want to discuss during the appointment so you do not forget them.

    • If your doctor has requested information like your temperature or weight have this information ready.

    • Have some paper to take notes about what you find out during the e-visit.

  • Make a list of your current medications (or gather the actual bottles).

  • Check your email for instructions. Be sure to review any email, texts, or other communication from your doctor’s office with details about your upcoming appointment and how to log on or use their technology.

  • Reduce background noise. This can be tricky when there are a lot of people in the house! But if you can, find a quiet activity for the kids — or your roommates — in a separate room.

  • Close other applications. Some applications will slow down your internet connection. And even if they do not, closing them will cut down on distractions.

Get camera ready

  • Choose a spot with plenty of light. If you are using the camera on your phone, try turning on the flash if necessary.

  • Make sure the camera is steady. This will be easier if you are using a computer or laptop. To keep a phone steady, prop it up on a desk or table.

  • Get comfortable. You will have an easier time focusing on the visit if your body is comfortable. This is another reason to prop up your phone — your arm will get pretty tired if you are trying to hold the phone out in front of you the whole time!

  • Wear loose clothing. If you will need to show the doctor something on your skin or a specific part of your body, wear something that will be easy to move so that the doctor can see clearly.

Troubleshooting telehealth technology

Here are common troubleshooting tips you can use if you are having trouble logging in to your telehealth appointment or if you have technology issues during the appointment itself.

  • Restart your computer or device.

  • Make sure the device is plugged in and charged.

  • Check that the internet connection is working and is strong enough to work with the telehealth platform.

  • Close all other applications.

  • Update your internet browser (if the telehealth platform is web-based).

  • Try connecting with a different device.

  • Check your email or call your doctor’s office to reach someone who can provide help.

 
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