Telemedicine: The Virtual Doctor Will See You Now
Widespread smartphone use, loosening regulations, and employers seeking health cost savings are three trends that are driving the rapid expansion of telemedicine, which allows patients to interact with doctors or nurses remotely through a website or mobile app using a secure audio or video connection. Proponents say telemedicine offers immediate access to many types of simple care while avoiding unnecessary and costly emergency room visits.
Telemedicine could be just what the doctor ordered for many minor health problems such as allergies and rashes, or for an urgent condition such as a child’s fever that emerges after office hours. It may also make it easier to seek therapy for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. In other cases, doctors can remotely monitor the vital signs or health of patients with chronic heart or lung conditions, or follow up with patients after a hospital discharge. Telemedicine can also help fill gaps in the availability of specialty care, especially in rural areas.
In 2019, nearly nine out of 10 employers with 500 or more employees offered telemedicine programs in their benefit packages, but many workers have not tried them out. Only 9% of eligible employees utilized telemedicine services in 2018 (the most recent year for which data is available), even though virtual consultations often have lower copays and are generally less expensive than in-person office visits, especially for those with high deductibles. Patients can often seek treatment wherever and whenever it’s convenient, conceivably missing fewer work hours and wasting less time traveling to and from appointments.1
If your employer has paved the way to telemedicine services, you might take a closer look at the details, download the app, and/or register for an online account. This way, you’ll be ready to log in quickly the next time your family faces a medical problem.