Remember when the only way to see a doctor was to, well, actually go see one? Nowadays, telemedicine, a means of practicing health care from a distance using telecommunication technologies, is giving patients care options beyond the traditional office visit. And so far, the results have been promising.
The American Academy of Family Physicians issued a policy statement saying it supports telemedicine when conducted in a manner supportive of longitudinal care and within the context of appropriate standards of care. And patients seem to be giving it the thumbs up, too: Telemedicine is projected to explode to an expected seven million U.S. patient users by 2018, up from 350,000 in 2013, according to a Physician Trends Report.
Not sure if tech-centered healthcare is right for you? Here are a few reasons you might want to give telemedicine a try:
- It’s more convenient: Instead of booking an appointment an average of 24 days in advance, and then sitting around forever in a waiting room—the average wait time for a doctor’s appointment in the U.S. is 18 minutes and 13 seconds—you can communicate with your doctor at a time that’s convenient for you. Some telemedicine companies offer direct email communication with primary care doctors while others make it possible for patients to exchange text-like messages with board-certified physicians. Others provide video and telephone appointments for common ailments like the flu. Many of these services are fully accessible through smartphones or tablets, meaning doctors can prescribe medications and diagnose simple issues virtually—no in-person visit required.
- It’s more comfortable: Sometimes just sitting in a doctor’s office—especially the waiting room—can be stressful. With telemedicine, you can get the care you need while lying in bed, posting up on the couch, or hanging out at your kitchen table.
- It’s easier to stay organized: With so much paperwork to keep track of, telemedicine can give you the tools you need to keep your documents organized. Several telemedicine services allow you to store your past messages and medical records in a secure, password-protected app that you can access at any time. No more sifting through notes and printouts!
- It can save you money: Typically, the only way to receive a doctor’s input on even the simplest questions is to set up an office visit, which usually means forking over a copay and potentially other fees. Telemedicine eliminates the need for an office visit. This kind of virtual care often comes with a smaller fee, and sometimes it’s even free! Based on a Value in Health study examining video medical visits for over 11,281 patients over 17.5 years, if telemedicine served as a replacement for 100 percent of in-office visits, it would save nearly nine years of travel time, five million miles, and almost 3 million dollars in costs.
If you’re unsure about where to start, talk to your doctor about any telemedicine options they may offer or if they would be open to the idea. In addition, explore companies, apps, and services that provide telemedicine, and see if they are offered in your area and covered by your insurance plan.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.