Clark Howard

5 Things to Know About Telemedicine

We’ve all been in a place where a prescription or medical advice was necessary, but a visit to the doctor’s office just didn’t seem worth it. With telemedicine, you’re able to get the guidance and prescriptions you need for common ailments without having to leave your home.
Recently, Clark Howard shared his experience with telemedicine and its ability to take the place of an in-person doctor visit for routine medical needs.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at five things to know about telemedicine before making your first remote appointment.

Table of Contents

  1. What is Telemedicine?
  2. How Does Telemedicine Work?
  3. Finding an Online Doctor
  4. How Much Does Telemedicine Cost?
  5. Telemedicine vs. Traditional Visits

What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine is a subset of telehealth, which basically includes any electronic transfer of medical information. Specifically, telemedicine allows patients, doctors and experts to interact online in order to discuss symptoms, make a diagnosis and/or write a prescription.

In simpler terms, telemedicine allows you to see your doctor without having to leave the comfort of your home. The appointment itself can different forms depending on the reason for the visit. For example, you may be on the phone, in a video chat or using a messaging app.

Clark Howard recently had a routine follow-up visit with his doctor remotely, which he says worked out perfectly in a situation where there was no need to go to the doctor’s office in-person.

"He and I did a telemedicine visit," Clark explains. "We had a choice: We could have either done a full video appointment or, in the case of my appointment, it was routine enough that we did a phone call. Basically, a by-appointment phone call and were able to talk through the situation."

Telemedicine is ideal for routine appointments and minor illnesses including allergies, colds, infections, rashes, sore throats, sprains, UTIs and more.

How Does Telemedicine Work?

Telemedicine works differently depending on your symptoms, your doctor and the platform used to communicate. 

You may be typing questions and responses to your doctor in a messaging platform, talking to your doctor over the phone or interacting face-to-face through online video software. Unless your doctor is able to call you and make diagnosis via the phone, you'll most likely need a computer, smartphone or tablet along with reliable internet access to complete a remote doctor visit.

During the actual appointment, you can expect a similar process to what you’d see in a traditional doctor’s office. 

"We had the follow-up like we would have had it in the office, just with me in my home and him in his home," Clark says about his recent appointment. "It's a great way for a doctor to not be exposed to what you have and for you to not be exposed to what other patients have."

Ultimately, with the right technology, telemedicine can work just like a regular doctor's appointment. Just be sure to clearly communicate with your doctor during a remote visit to ensure they have all the information they need to make a diagnosis. 

Finding an Online Doctor

As telemedicine increases in popularity, more options are becoming available for you to connect with a doctor online.

If there's a doctor familiar with your medical history that you visit regularly, you may be able to contact his or her office directly to set up a telemedicine appointment. "Right now, I think they're really fans of it," Clark says of family doctors. "If you have a doctor, he or she may be willing to do a telemedicine kind of thing." 

Depending on your needs, your doctor may be willing to schedule a call or video chat in place of an in-person visit. Aside from your primary physician, here are five places to schedule a telemedicine appointment:

1. DoctorOnDemand

This online service is available 24/7 to connect you with a doctor via live video in minutes, assuming it’s not during a period of high demand. The company accepts insurance, but without it, medical visits have a flat rate of $75 and therapy starts at $129. 

2. CareClix 

This is another company able to connect patients with physicians for virtual exams. While the cost varies, CareClix does accept a variety of insurance plans. 

3. Teladoc 

Teladoc offers consultations with doctors, therapists and medical experts via phone or video. The cost of an appointment varies based on your health plan and the type of care you’re seeking. Everyday care appointments are available for $55, mental health appointments begin at $90 and dermatology consultations are $85 per doctor review.

4. iCliniq 

This virtual clinic offers a free consultation to get started and allows you to submit written questions, request a phone call or interact using online video. For the best pricing, you can choose from a variety of service subscriptions beginning at $79 for six months.

5. Amwell

This company provides easy access to doctors from your home using the web, mobile apps or the phone by calling 1-844-SEE-DOCS. You can see the wide range of insurance plans that are accepted by Amwell here. Otherwise, a standard visit costs $69.

How Much Does Telemedicine Cost?

Depending on the company you go through (or your primary doctor's fees) you can expect to pay between $50 and $80 for a standard visit without insurance. Compared to seeing an in-person doctor, the out-of-pocket price is significantly cheaper.

Many telemedicine companies also accept insurance and/or payment from eligible HSA or FSA plans to help reduce the cost. 
To find out if your insurance plan covers telemedicine costs, check with your insurer about your specific policy. Most virtual doctor’s offices are very transparent about pricing and accepted insurance, but don’t hesitate to contact the service provider to verify before scheduling an appointment if you’re unsure.

Telemedicine vs. Traditional Visits

Seeing your doctor online or talking with them over the phone from home may seem quite different at first compared to your average appointment. Once you begin interacting with your doctor and receiving treatment, you’ll find that the overall process is still very similar.

"It was really, in some ways, very different than a normal doctor visit," says Clark, "but in other ways, it felt completely normal."

Consider these four major differences between telemedicine and traditional medicine before deciding which option is best for you:

1. Convenience

Seeing a doctor remotely is very convenient compared to going to a doctor’s office. You can set up a virtual exam, consultation or therapy session from home and you don’t have to leave the house when it’s time for the appointment. That also means that you won’t be exposing your doctor to your illness nor coming in contact with other patients.

2. Wait Time

With telemedicine, you can typically be seen within minutes of making your appointment, unless there’s a period of high demand. Outside of urgent care, traditional doctor’s offices typically won’t be able to offer you same-day appointments.

3. Cost

If you don’t have insurance, telemedicine is typically going to be a more affordable option compared to an in-person visit. Several telemedicine companies also accept insurance and/or payments from HSA or FSA plans. 

4. Comprehensiveness

The biggest drawback of telemedicine is the communication barrier. Technology can only carry us so far, and there’s simply some medical care you can’t receive remotely. Your doctor will only be able to make decisions and provide guidance based on what you tell or show them.

Final Thoughts

Overall, telemedicine will never completely replace the hands-on care you’ll get from an in-person visit with your doctor. Still, for common ailments, medical advice and simple prescriptions, it can provide a more convenient and contact-free way to see your doctor.

Clark says, "I think through this process people will become more comfortable — both medical professionals and patients — in situations that are more routine, going for a visit on their phone than going for a visit in person." 

He wraps up his reflection on the experience by saying he found he got everything that he needed from the appointment. 
If you’re thinking about using telemedicine to meet with a doctor, check with your insurance provider first to see if you’re eligible for coverage. Then, talk to your primary doctor about remote appointment options or sign up for a telemedicine service like those listed above.

Have you ever used telemedicine to see a doctor remotely? Let us know how your experience went in the comments below!

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