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What Is Telemedicine?

Getting a house call from a doctor is rare these days. Luckily, there’s a kind of doctor’s appointment that can give you a similar experience without an in-person visit. What is telemedicine, and what can it do for you?

What Is Telemedicine?

Healthcare can be a hassle. Getting to the doctor’s office is difficult when you don’t feel well or aren’t able to drive yourself. Once you get there, there’s often a long wait to see your doctor. Worse yet, there’s usually only a few minutes of consultation before you leave again. If you’re already feeling sick, it can be an additional struggle you don’t have the energy to deal with.

In the past, doctors made house calls if patients were unable to come to them. In the 1930s, up to 40 percent of doctor’s visits were house calls. This practice has fallen out of favor due to the expense and inconvenience it poses to doctors. However, the need is still present. What if you need to see a doctor, but a trip to their office isn’t an option? Enter telemedicine. 

Telemedicine Is a House Call Using Your Computer

So, what is telemedicine? Simply put, telemedicine refers to ways you can get medical care from the comfort of your own home. Instead of meeting with a doctor in person, you interact with them over your phone, computer, or email. There are three basic kinds of telemedicine:

  • Live telemedicine allows you to interact directly with a care provider during a scheduled “visit.” These visits most commonly take place over video calls. Through live telemedicine, doctors can provide consultations, do basic visual examinations, answer questions, and provide follow-up information on simple medical issues. 
  • Remote patient monitoring occurs when doctors need to collect medical information from you, but are unable to do that in person. This can be as high-tech as using a blood sugar monitor that digitally relays real-time information to your doctors office, or as simple as recording a daily blood pressure log and emailing it to your practitioner on a regular basis. 
  • “Store and forward” refers to the practice of doctors offices making medical records available to other offices through electronic forwarding or cloud-based information systems. This can be convenient if you visit multiple specialists in the same medical system.

Telemedicine may seem like the future, but it’s nothing new. Since the 1950s, doctors have been diagnosing and consulting with patients over the telephone. As technology has advanced, so too has telemedicine. The growth of online information portals, video calling, and health-tracking apps now means that much of what used to require a trip to your doctors office can easily and efficiently be taken care of from home. 

Will Telemedicine Work for Me?

There are many people who appreciate the convenience and practicality of telemedicine. Imagine you have the flu. Instead of having to wait a couple hours at the doctor’s office for a quick consultation, a telemedicine visit can be done in just a few minutes, and the same prescriptions you’d get in person can be forwarded to your home pharmacy for pickup or delivery. You might not even have to get out of your pajamas!

Telemedicine has other benefits as well.  With a telemedicine visit, it’s easy to have a friend or loved one with you to take notes. Even if they live elsewhere, most doctors can easily conference them in. If there’s a specialist that practices far away, a telemedicine visit can allow you to get their assistance without the travel time. And if you are immunocompromised, telemedicine can help you avoid the germs that tend to be present in most waiting rooms.

However, telemedicine has its limits. If you are having a medical emergency or have a condition that requires hands-on care, in-person visits will be necessary. In addition, many people simply prefer the experience of meeting with their doctor in person.

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Telemedicine may seem odd at first, but it’s an innovation that many have come to love. If your doctor offers telemedicine, consider giving it a try the next time you’re feeling under the weather.

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