Telemedicine Visits — What I Need to Know

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has proven that telemedicine can be a safer option for many Americans seeking routine healthcare.   There could be more than 1 billion telemedicine visits in the U.S. by the end of the year.   Not all providers offer these visits however some local health departments also have hotlines you can call to get evaluated,

What conditions work best with telemedicine?

Telemedicine is a meeting with a medical provider remotely through some form of technology – usually the internet.  It works best for simple primary care and follow-up conversations like:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Cold sores
  • Colds and flu
  • Skin problems like rashes, inflammation, etc.
  • Hair loss
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Migraines
  • Thyroid problems
  • Refills for certain medications

For bigger problems, such as severe pain, shortness of breath, or a high fever, call 911 immediately.

Will insurance cover a telemedicine visit?

Most private plans will cover a telemedicine visit. You may have a copay.  Medicare also temporarily relaxed rules to cover telemedicine visits. Medicaid varies by state.  As the telemedicine landscape changes, so will insurance coverage options.

How much does a telemedicine visit cost?

The cost of telemedicine visits through a medical practice, hospital, or clinic can vary and will depend on whether you have insurance.  Some online services that strictly offer telemedicine like HeyDoctor (by GoodRx) costs around $30 regardless of insurance.

What do I need to do before the visit?

After you schedule an appointment, there are several things you’ll want to do to get ready:

  • Determine what technology you need.  Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime and Google Duo are common. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to set it up and test it.
  • Prepare your info. Enter your information on your computer so you can send to your doctor.  Allergies, chronic conditions, insurance information, list of your current medications, your pharmacy information and your primary care provider.
  • List your symptoms. Write down as much detail as you can about your symptoms: what, when they started, how long you’ve had them, if they’ve gotten worse, and what you’ve used to treat them.
  • Write down questions. Make a list questions to ask about your symptoms or whatever else you’re seeing them about. Remember to ask about when follow-up if needed.
  • Take your vitals and pictures. It is just like they’d do in the doctor’s office. If you don’t have the ability to do this, it’s OK. If it’s a skin problem, they may want you to take pictures of the affected area.
  • Create an ideal setting. Find a quiet place with reliable Wi-Fi, good lighting, and no distractions. Your device should be charged up and ready to go. It’s also a good idea to have a pen and paper handy to take notes during the call.

What about afterward?

Your provider may email you details of the visit after you’re done or send them through their website or app if you have an account. If you need a new prescription or a refill, they can order it to your local pharmacy. If you need lab work, they’ll either refer you to a local lab or send you a home test kit.

On my first appointment my doctor recommended certain exercises for my shoulder (I fell down during my daily walk and landed on the sidewalk, shoulder first).  He explained them to me but I was in no condition to remember.  Thankfully, a customer sent a list of exercises with diagrams pictures and instructions.  The takeaway for you – make sure to ask for diagrams if some therapy is recommended.