The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has greatly increased the chances that you or a family member will need to see a doctor. Hopefully it won’t be for a COVID-19 infection. But kids are still going to get rashes, sore throats and need medical attention for other reasons.

If you do need to visit any health care professional during the current COVID-19 pandemic, chances are it will be via electronic means, or telemedicine. Telemedicine means the remote delivery of health care services. In many cases, you’ll receive the same medical services, just not in the same room as your doctor. If you are referred to another doctor or need to see a specialist, your medical information can be sent quickly through secure portals. Equipment must have audio and video capabilities to accommodate two-way, real-time communication.

Patients can use telemedicine for any reason or diagnosis. It does not have to be related to the current COVID-19 emergency. In fact, the older members of your family on Medicare may already be using telemedicine. Last month, the federal government changed the rules to allow more doctors and other providers to provide telemedicine services to Medicare beneficiaries.

Even before COVID-19 started dictating our lives, telemedicine or telehealth was becoming increasingly popular. There will always be an important role for face-to-face visits (such as the annual check-up) with your health care provider, when it is again safe to schedule them. Telemedicine isn’t perfect and it’s obviously not for everyone or every medical problem. There can be a potential for error, because technology cannot capture what human skills and experience can reveal.

There are many advantages to using telemedicine, including:

  • Convenience and privacy; confidentiality can be maintained during real-time communication
  • Wait times almost disappear; support staff will contact you and gather information to get you ready for the doctor
  • Provides access to a wider range of health care services, especially in rural areas
  • Ability to share patient information with specialists and increase collaboration among your health care team
  • Lower costs for patients
  • Transportation arrangements not required
  • Don’t have to miss work or arrange for child or elder care
  • Prevent unneeded and expensive emergency room visits
  • More communication with your provider means a better outcome for you
  • Providers can see more patients
  • Vulnerable patients with mild symptoms can be treated at home to limit community spread of disease and reduce exposure to other patients and staff

Some of the most effective uses of telemedicine are:

  • Chronic disease management; 75% of U.S. health care spending is to treat chronic heart disease, cancer and diabetes
  • Medication management; improved medication compliance reduces disease relapse and hospitalizations
  • Reduced use of emergency room (ER); a virtual visit lets the provider determine if patient needs ER or a less expensive option
  • Second opinions
  • Post-surgical and post-partum care
  • Substance abuse
  • Home dialysis
  • Behavioral health
  • Monitor patients at home via mobile medical equipment including stethoscopes, EKGs, pulse measures, ultrasound, blood pressure cuffs, otoscopes and dermatoscopes
  • More efficient use of health care personnel during disasters, when need increases; quarantined doctors can practice via telemedicine

There are still many barriers to internet access – poor connection in rural areas, having the necessary equipment at home and knowing how to use it. But telemedicine is going to become a part of the new normal in health care for everyone.

Photo credit Andrey Popov, I Stock Getty Images Plus