Telemedicine is a method of getting medical care by remote. With this approach, a doctor can be in one location and the patient in another. The two can talk using technology. This includes videoconferencing, store-and-forward imaging (sharing data), streaming media, and wireless communications. Telemedicine is different from telehealth. Telehealth refers to remote health services that are non-clinical. Telehealth may involve nurses, social workers, pharmacists, etc.

The AAFP supports the use of telehealth and telemedicine to improve health. However, it must follow appropriate standards of care.

Path to improved well being

Telemedicine began as a way to serve rural populations with limited access to doctors. It is  gaining popularity everywhere because of the advantages it offers. These include:

  • Doctors are passing on the expense of a standard “brick and mortar” office.
  • Patients don’t have to travel to an office. They can see the doctor from their home, their car, or their workplace.
  • Access to quality care. If you live in a remote area, your choices of doctors may be limited. This opens the door to more doctors and more specialists.
  • Better management of chronic disease. Patients are more likely to keep their appointments when it’s convenient. This means they are more likely to manage their chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

Medicaid allows for the use of telemedicine. Providers must offer efficiency, economy, and quality of care. Providers must have a valid medical license in the patient’s state.

Telemedicine can be used for diagnostic tests, progress monitoring, and with specialists outside the patient’s area.

Telemedicine can help with the following:

  • allergies
  • arthritis
  • asthma, respiratory and sinus infections
  • bronchitis
  • colds and flu
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • infections
  • insect bites
  • pharyngitis
  • pink eye
  • rashes
  • 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
  • headaches
  • small wounds and cuts
  • fever

Telemedicine can be used in these medical specialties:

  • psychiatry
  • dermatology
  • ophthalmology
  • oncology
  • obstetrics
  • physical rehabilitation

Certain situations make telemedicine ideal. These include:

  • vacations
  • appointments outside regular office hours
  • non-emergency care
  • no one to watch young children at home
  • prescription refills
  • lab results
  • time off of work
  • budget

Things to consider

There are a few drawbacks to telemedicine. These include:

  • Not all exams can be performed digitally.
  • Your doctor may lack the training to interact digitally.
  • Patients may not have access to technology.
  • The sharing of records may not go smoothly
  • Technical difficulties

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Do most doctors offer telemedicine?
  • Will my insurance pay for it?
  • Are patients at increased risk of medical error with telemedicine?