Guest Post by Jan Dubauskas
Many of us are experiencing major life adjustments as we social distance and shelter in place while we wait for the coronavirus to pass. Grocery stores are no longer stocked with our favorite foods, and restaurants are closed for all but take-out. We’re working from home while homeschooling our kids, and these changes can be overwhelming, especially if someone in the family needs medical treatment.
Fortunately, telemedicine makes it easy and affordable to receive medical treatment while social distancing. In recent days, the Trump administration has promoted telemedicine as an excellent way to receive regular healthcare while maintaining a safe distance. Also, the FDA has just provided guidance to expand the availability and capabilities of remote healthcare devices.
Before telemedicine, when we were sick and needed treatment right away, we had to either go to the emergency room or call the doctor’s office and hope for an opening the next day. Now, thanks to continued advancements in connectivity, we have access to a telemedicine provider at all times. And many doctor’s offices have ventured into the world of telehealth so their patients can work directly with their regular physicians.
First, let’s define telemedicine. Telemedicine is the telephonic delivery of healthcare services where a healthcare provider is connected over the telephone or video with a patient who needs treatment. The appointment, diagnosis and treatment plan are all discussed during the telephone appointment.
Just like an in-office appointment, the doctor and patient discuss the symptoms, and any treatment already received. Once the physician has made the diagnosis, she communicates her decision and, if a prescription is required, can submit the order directly to the pharmacy of the patient’s choice.
Patients are often surprised to learn the number of conditions that can be treated by telemedicine. It can be a quick and effective way to handle routine illnesses like a cold or flu, sinus or bacterial infections, conjunctivitis (pink eye), yeast infections, bladder infections and more. Telehealth professionals can treat patients for allergies, skin infections, rashes, moles, acid reflux, arthritis and more. In addition, mental health conditions such as depression, grief, anxiety, and stress are more frequently being treated through telehealth providers.
Telemedicine doesn’t cover emergency situations like heart attack, stroke, accidents or injuries. For emergency situations, patients should review their health insurance network options and consider whether to visit an urgent care facility or the emergency room.
Although each telemedicine provider program is a little bit different, typically there is a monthly fee that starts around $19.99 per month for an individual and more for a family.
There is usually a cost for each telephone appointment of $20 or $40. Telemedicine is not insurance, so any costs from the telemedicine would not apply toward a deductible or be discounted by a health insurance network.
If the patient’s telemedicine appointment is with his regular doctor, the visit typically costs the same or less than a regular office visit.
Yes, appointments that are given by a patient’s regular doctor can be submitted to insurance. Recently, the Trump administration relaxed the rules for Medicare allowing doctor visits by telephone that can be submitted to Medicare for payment.
Unfortunately, standalone telemedicine and telehealth provider services are not typically covered by insurance. Look closely at your insurance policy to decide if it covers telemedicine or telehealth and feel free to call their customer service number to find out more.
While most telemedicine is conducted telephonically, video visits are becoming more popular, too. Some telehealth providers are video-capable, and can conduct the appointment from Skype, FaceTime and other online video applications.
Certain uses for video appointments may be particularly helpful. For example, physical therapists are providing appointments via telemedicine, and their live-action video can demonstrate real-time physical therapy techniques.
The best way to know if a doctor uses telemedicine is to call their office and ask. Another way to find out which doctors are in the telemedicine network is to contact the telemedicine provider and either look up the doctors online or call in and ask.
If a doctor does not offer telemedicine services through her practice, a telehealth product can be purchased online. Also, many employer health insurance plans provide a telemedicine solution, so it is important to check your plan to determine if telemedicine is already included. If not, there are many affordable options available.
Extraordinary challenges call for extraordinary solutions. Unexpectedly, coronavirus is teaching us to embrace newer technology, products, and ideas, like having a doctor’s visit over the phone, instead of in-person.
Jan Dubauskas is a healthcare expert, enthusiastic insurance pro and mom serving as Vice President and Senior Counsel of HealthInsurance.com.
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