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Many of us dread going to medical offices. It may not be the medical consultation per se but rather the traffic we have to face to get there, the nuisance of finding a parking spot and sitting in a waiting room next to other people. Often when you have physical symptoms anxiety can increase.

This is why telemedicine may save the day! More than 80% of a medical consultation entails a conversation with the physician who listens to what you have to say, observes, and asks questions. Telehealth, virtual care, or telemedicine uses digital information and communication technologies to deliver clinical health services. Patients can benefit from health care services remotely, through computers or mobile devices, in a variety of settings, including at home, at school, or in seniors’ residences.

According to Science, Telehealth is gaining popularity in the United States especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic as a solution to provide patient care without endangering public health. As long as both parties have a reliable internet connection and access to technology that facilitates virtual appointments, telemedicine is a convenient way to get a diagnosis for health issues not requiring physical contact with the physician. Moreover, Business Insider explains, it allows for remote patient monitoring (RPM) through devices that send patient readings (blood pressure, glucose level, etc.) to the monitoring medical team.

What is a telehealth visit?

A telehealth visit takes place on a telemedicine platform through HIPAA-compliant software. It is a synchronous audio or video appointment between a healthcare provider and a patient. It is important to remember that the telehealth platform is secure and allows for scheduling, patient intake, patient chart management, billing, e-prescribing, ICD-10 codes, etc. A virtual visit follows the same clinical guidelines as an in-person appointment.

Before any telehealth appointment, you need to make sure you have an internet connection and a networked device with a camera and microphone. The virtual appointment is a “face-to-face” online visit with the healthcare provider who will ask questions about your medical history and the current symptoms you need assessed. Depending on the equipment available during the consultation at the patient’s location, the healthcare specialist may ask for vital sign readings, such as temperature, weight, and blood pressure.

For example, in the case of COVID-19 symptoms, most patients who were diagnosed by phone or other mobile device had a thermometer at hand. Healthcare apps might also do the trick for estimated readings, although they are not entirely reliable. For physical symptoms, a camera is vital for the physician to inspect the area of concern and make an evidence-based diagnosis. When the virtual visit concludes, the patient may get the following if determined appropriate–  a diagnosis, a referral information about the next step of the evaluation, a prescription, or any other recommendations they may get following in-person visits.

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What are the applications of telehealth?

Telehealth has a wide range of applications, including tele-education and tele-consultation. While tele-education focuses on healthcare professionals reducing travel time and attending continuing medical education, tele-consultation addresses the need for virtual patient care. Most telemedicine visit centers focus on gathering symptoms and other information that can lead to diagnosis and treatment. Telehealth is an ideal solution for patients who deal with minor health issues, like a sore throat, flu, insect bites, allergies, cough, eye infections, or sprains, that don’t require lab tests or imaging for diagnosis.

Many primary care clinics have an online patient portal that allows for more secure communication of private medical information than through a regular email. Moreover, the portal is a useful online tool that facilitates access to test result reviews, visit summaries, prescription refills, and appointment scheduling. Everything gets done fast and securely directly on your mobile device or computer.

Additionally, telehealth facilitates counseling and therapy services. The visits are very similar to the in-person sessions allowing the therapist to interact with the patient over the phone or through video conferencing. Telemedicine is a very useful tool for people who battle mental health issues like depression, anxiety, stress, eating disorders, and obsessions and compulsions because it allows for easier access to mental health care.

Telehealth is an efficient way to provide therapy to people who have busy schedules, live in remote locations, or have limited mobility. Since the sessions can take place without the patient having to visit the therapist’s office, telemedicine may help the patient feel more comfortable and reduce the stigma associated with going to therapy. Furthermore, telemedicine may increase the effectiveness of the treatment because the patient will find it easier to show up for appointments.

How to prepare for a telehealth visit?

Check the patient portal of your health care provider for details about your appointment. Most telemedicine visit centers send an appointment link via email. Before clicking on the appointment email, make sure you find a private and quiet space for your virtual visit. Good lighting is important, especially if you have physical symptoms the physician should see.

Check your internet connection and test your device’s camera and microphone if you are scheduled for a video consultation. The internet speed should be at least 1 megabit per second, and the internet connection should be secure due to the private nature of your conversation. If the visit takes place by phone, make sure you have no family members, pets, or other distractions around you and use a telephone you are familiar with. Check the sound quality.

Log in onto the platform or the program 15 minutes before the appointment and have at hand your recent lab results and any other information that may be useful during the consultation. Depending on your medical condition, you should also be ready to use a thermometer, blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter, or glucose monitor.

Prepare a list of questions you may have for the health care provider. If you’re experiencing physical symptoms that need to be assessed visually, like a rash, be ready to expose it to the camera. In most cases, the physician can prescribe new prescriptions and refills via telehealth, and these will be sent to a delivery service or a pharmacy from where you can collect them or have them delivered to your home.

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