As the COVID-19 pandemic creates a new reality for patients and medical providers, non-urgent in-person care is taking a hit. But many appointments, while not urgent, are very much needed, including follow-ups to orthopaedic surgeries and treatment for injuries. Medical practices are switching to telemedicine for both primary and specialized care. Virtual care offers many benefits, with protecting patients from COVID-19 at the forefront. According to the American Medical Association, telemedicine usage rose from 14 to 28 percent between 2016 and 2019. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, it has “surged as an essential tool to keep patients and health care workers safe.” However, the benefits of telemedicine extend far beyond the immediate public health situation. Let’s take a look at telemedicine and how we can use it during the COVID crisis and beyond.
What Is Telemedicine?
Virtual healthcare and wellness have been on the rise for years and are becoming commonplace for patients of all ages. We may use terms like telemedicine, telehealth, and telecare interchangeably. But there are shades of meaning in these terms, with telemedicine being the most specific. It covers almost everything you would experience at an in-person doctor’s appointment, including diagnosis, consultations, and evaluations. On the other hand, telehealth is a more general term that covers everything from basic online health education to virtual appointments and telemedicine. Telecare is a separate concept under the telehealth umbrella. It includes technology we see in our daily lives for wellness monitoring: fitness monitoring devices, remote emergency alerts, and health monitoring systems. Your virtual appointment with your primary care doctor or specialist during COVID-19 is telemedicine. Using your smartphone to track physical activity is telecare.
What Are the Benefits of Telemedicine?
During a global pandemic, the benefits of telemedicine are clear. It helps healthy patients avoid in-person appointments. Virtual visits allow patients to stay away from healthcare settings and reduce the risk of infection while allowing access to needed care. However, telemedicine was on the rise before COVID-19 and will remain valuable after the pandemic has subsided. Some of the benefits include:
- Telemedicine allows providers to offer care when travel is challenging for patients. It has long been a lifesaver for patients in rural communities when specialists are far away. It also helps when mobility issues make travel difficult.
- Telemedicine reduces the stress of getting to a doctor’s appointment, especially for patients with chronic illness or mental health issues.
- Telemedicine reduces missed work or school time for patients and offers a higher level of convenience.
- Telemedicine eliminates unnecessary urgent care visits. Virtual appointments save time and money and let the medical community use resources where they’re most needed.
How Does Telemedicine Work?
The most common use of telemedicine is a virtual office visit. Using a computer, smartphone, or tablet, patients can sit down with their provider in real-time, just as if they were in the office. Patients can have a general consultation, discuss preventive care and wellness or go over lab results or scans just as they would during an in-person appointment.
Remote patient monitoring equipment, including blood pressure monitors, digital scales, and wearable devices, are also valuable telehealth tools. They give your doctor access to biometric data in real-time via digital apps.
Telemedicine also includes so-called “store-and-forward” technologies that share images and data between offices. Examples include radiologists quickly passing on imaging results to other practices or specialists sharing information with primary care or complex care doctors.
Who Should Use Telemedicine?
Telemedicine has uses for almost all patients and all medical specialties, especially during the current public health crisis. According to the AMA, the specialists who use telemedicine the most to interact with patients (pre-COVID) are radiologists, psychiatrists, and cardiologists. Telemedicine is ideal for:
- Patients with chronic conditions.
- Patients with high blood pressure.
- Patients with diabetes.
- Mental and behavioral healthcare.
- Adults or children with common conditions like conjunctivitis or a sinus infection.
- Patients with mobility issues following an injury or surgery.
- Primary care for at-risk seniors.
How Do I Pay for Telemedicine?
In recent weeks, both private insurers and federal and state governments are catching up with the rising demand for telemedicine. In these challenging times, it makes financial and practical sense to cover virtual care. According to the AMA, as of March 1, Medicare will now pay physicians for telehealth services at the same rate as in-office visits for all diagnoses. According to the Center for Connected Health Policy, many states required private insurers to cover telemedicine at some level before COVID, and the situation is quickly evolving. Insurers are removing distance requirements, expanding eligible services, removing existing patient requirements, and allowing new patients to make telemedicine appointments, according to CCHP. We encourage patients to talk with their insurers about telemedicine coverage as they navigate the new healthcare reality.
Telemedicine at Countryside Orthopaedics
You may think of orthopaedics as a hands-on specialty. But telemedicine has become a valuable tool as we navigate the COVID-19 landscape. There are still times when our providers will need an in-person appointment. But virtual meetings are ideal for many needs, including post-operative check-ups, wound checks, and reviewing lab and scan results. Beyond the current crisis, telemedicine appointments can make life easier on patients when injuries and surgeries cause mobility issues. We can’t replace every visit, but telemedicine has become an essential option for our providers and patients. Our practice is moving forward with our patients’ health and safety at the forefront of our considerations. Let our office know if you need help getting set up to meet us from the safety and comfort of your home.