Oftentimes scheduling and attending a doctor’s office visit can be challenging. It may involve juggling work and childcare schedules, lengthy travel time and time spent sitting in a crowded waiting room.
It’s no wonder virtual care (also known as remote care, telehealth, telemedicine or online visits) is growing in popularity. Instead of an in-person visit, virtual care uses technology, including tablets, smartphones and personal computers, to connect you with care providers. Some of the obvious advantages are convenience, quick access to care and time savings. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) pointed out that a virtual visit saves 106 minutes on average, compared to an in-person appointment.
Further, virtual visits often can cost as low as $40 or $50 per visit, much less than an urgent care or emergency room visit, and many insurance companies are now covering them.
Virtual care makes sense for a variety of conditions, from treating colds and the flu to rashes, migraines and allergies. A virtual visit can be especially handy during times when it’s otherwise difficult to seek care, such as during a major storm. Even the federal government is beginning to recognize the value of virtual care. In 2017, Congress expanded insurance and Medicare payments for a variety of telehealth programs, enabling more people to access this type of care.
Beyond the convenience and time savings, here are three other features of virtual visits that may surprise you:
- It can be just as personal – if not more so – than an in-person visit. While you may be concerned about getting advice through a video screen rather than in person, doctors who provide virtual care are well-trained to make these appointments an “all-about-you” experience. They can attend to your concerns without distraction, and examine and treat you for a variety of conditions ranging from sinus problems to pink eye. You receive direct, one-on-one attention and avoid having to sit with other sick people prior to your appointment.
- You can show doctors your medications. How often have you arrived at your doctor’s office, only to realize you forgot to bring a list of your current medications and dosages? When you meet with a doctor virtually, you can simply show them, in real time, your vitamins, supplements, medications and any equipment you are using, such as wheelchairs or nebulizers.
- Virtual care is popping up in more places. Your local doctor may already offer this service, or may sometime soon, for routine care or to manage a chronic condition, such as diabetes or congestive heart failure. And given the shortage of mental health services in many locations – nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population lives in regions with a shortage of behavioral health providers – virtual care can be a quicker way to receive treatment for a range of conditions, including stress, addiction, depression, loss and grief.
As technology continues to permeate all aspects of our lives, you’ll likely experience a virtual health visit, if you haven’t already. Check with your health plan to see if virtual visits are covered and whether you can register for them in advance. It will make your life easier and help you quickly get you the care you need – all within the comfort of your home.