Doctors have connected medicine with technology for years, and so have you. With a few clicks, you can research conditions and symptoms online. You can also have nearly anything — prescriptions, supplements, or bacon-shaped Band-Aids — delivered to your door. But to see your provider, you still had to go to their office and sit in a germ-filled waiting room.
Now, with telemedicine, technology can make health care something it’s rarely been: convenient.
What Is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is a general term that covers all of the ways you and your doctor can use technology to communicate without being in the same room. It includes phone calls, video chats, emails, and text messages. People also call it telehealth, digital medicine, e-health, or m-health (for “mobile”).
Who Uses It?
If your doctor offers the option, all you need to use telemedicine is reliable internet and a phone, smartphone, or computer.
Telemedicine is a convenient tool for everyone, but it’s especially helpful if you:
- Live in a rural area or far from your doctor’s office
- Have limited movement, time, or transportation
- Need medical care while you’re away from home
How Telemedicine Works
Depending on what your doctor offers, you can get medical services in different ways. Two of the most common are:
- A patient portal. With the security of a username and password, a patient portal lets you send and get emails from your doctor or nurse, ask for prescription refills, and set up appointments. Your doctor can also share your lab or imaging test results and tell you what they mean. This is often faster than waiting to talk to them on the phone.
- Virtual appointments. Some doctors can let you have an appointment through a phone call or video conference. You can often have these meetings with mental and behavioral health professionals and urgent care clinics, as well.
For Many Issues, but Not All
Telemedicine can do many things. But it can’t replace all doctor visits.
If you have a long-term illness, you can use it to share home readings like blood pressure or blood sugar levels and to talk to your doctor about them. But, sometimes, an in-person exam is the only way for your doctor to be sure about your diagnosis.
How to Get the Most Out of Telemedicine
Try the technology ahead of time. Telemedicine comes in many forms. Before you hop on a virtual appointment with your doctor, do a trial run to make sure you understand the system and work out any kinks. You may have to download an app, software, or program. You might also have to wait for your turn in a virtual “waiting room.”
Be prepared. Whether you have a call or a video appointment, write down your symptoms, medicines you’ve taken, and questions you have so you don’t forget anything when speaking to your doctor.