Telemedicine — the ability to access a physician or other health care provider remotely — is becoming an integral part of health care, and an attractive option for many patients looking not only for medical expertise, but for convenience and cost savings as well.
Health insurers are increasingly offering telemedicine as an added benefit in medical plans as a way for members to connect remotely with medical providers, including doctors, psychologists and lactation consultants. These providers can be accessed easily via voice or video, on a mobile device, tablet, or laptop.
Telemedicine sessions with a medical expert are ideal for addressing non-emergency situations such as colds, allergies, headaches, nausea, sore throats, and skin conditions. Telemedicine allows patients to potentially avoid an unnecessary trip to the emergency room or urgent care center, and to speak with a doctor as soon as symptoms arise. However, telemedicine should not be used for emergency situations; patients in these situations should call 911 or get to an emergency department immediately.
“While telemedicine is not meant to replace your doctor, it provides another avenue for people to receive care when and where they need it, whether they are in a rural community or a big city, and whether they are at home or on the go,” says Beth Bierbower, president of Employer Group Segment for Humana, a leading health and well-being company. For most telemedicine services, patients can use the phone or download a mobile app and create an account. Once a consultation is requested, the average wait time between requesting a session and speaking to a doctor is often less than 5 minutes.
Telemedicine services are offered through many health insurance plans. For example, Humana offers these services through the Doctor On Demand platform as a benefit on most of its group health plans nationwide. Check with your insurance carrier to see if telemedicine is a covered benefit on your health plan.
Telemedicine sessions often cost less for patients than in-person doctor visits, and offer a similar level of care to in-person medical services. Telemedicine clinicians are uniquely trained to treat patients virtually and are fully licensed to practice in a particular patient’s state. Many telemedicine platforms ask patients to complete a questionnaire before the session begins that gives the clinician relevant information, including health history and prescriptions, to streamline the patient experience. And, to ease any privacy-related fears, all sessions with a clinician are conducted using private, secure and confidential technology.