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virtual care

Virtual Care: Three Things That May Surprise You

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.

Image: Stock Photo

Virtual Care: What to Know Before You See a Doctor on Your Smartphone or Computer

If you’re like most of your neighbors and friends, you probably feel crunched for time. Between our jobs, school events, housework, child care and errands, it’s no wonder that more than 60 percent of working Americans say they do not have enough time to do what they want.

In our precious downtime, nearly 80 percent of us rely on a smartphone to stay connected to news, services and each other. A recent survey by UnitedHealthcare shows that nearly 30 percent of Americans use the internet or mobile apps as our first source for information about their health conditions. In fact, you might have noticed a growing number of apps that enable you to receive medical care virtually. Virtual care, also known as remote care, telehealth, telemedicine or online visits, is medical care that’s delivered using technology rather than through an in-person consultation.

Research has found that 77 percent of consumers are open to the idea of replacing an in-person doctor visit with a virtual one. Yet fewer than 20 percent of people have tried virtual visits. To see if virtual care is a good choice for you, here are some tips before you get started:

  • Check your benefits: Some health plans offer virtual visits as a benefit, through physicians in their local care provider networks and/or through a national online service. Independent telehealth services and apps outside your health plan may also be available.
  • You’ve probably used the technology: Virtual visits are as easy as FaceTime or Skype. You’ll need a smartphone, tablet or computer with video and audio capabilities. Via an online connection that uses special security to protect your privacy, a doctor, physician assistant or other clinician sees and hears your concerns and symptoms, and prescribes treatment or any follow-up if needed. A virtual visit can take place anywhere you have Wi-Fi or data access, at your convenience, and in many cases 24/7.
  • Use virtual visits for the right things: Virtual visits are for non-emergency, minor medical conditions. They can be a huge time-saver for people who suspect they have a bladder or urinary tract infection, a respiratory or sinus infection, a rash, stomachache or diarrhea, or a migraine headache. Some care providers offer telehealth visits for ongoing help for chronic conditions or behavioral health issues.
  • Know when a virtual visit won’t do: In an emergency, call 911 or go to an emergency room. Virtual visits aren’t appropriate for a hands-on physical exam or treatment, or for certain tests or X-rays.
  • Understand the cost: Virtual visits through your health plan usually cost the same or less than an in-person doctor visit. Independent telehealth services usually charge $50 to $75 per visit. In any case, your cost for virtual visits is usually lower compared to urgent care and emergency room visits. Virtual visits covered by your health plan might count toward your annual deductible and out-of-pocket maximum, just like in-office visits.
  • Talk with your doc before and after: To understand whether virtual care is a good option for you and your family, discuss it with your doctor. If you opt for a telehealth visit, ask the virtual care provider to send a summary of your visit to your primary care physician so your medical record is complete and your doctor can follow up with you appropriately.