Updated: Aug 13, 2018
With advances in technology, staying in closer communication with your doctor is now possible. Telemedicine, sometimes referred to as telehealth, in its simplest terms, is providing remote care to patients, whether it is through video visits, phone calls, email correspondence, or text messaging services. And although it is still a relatively new concept in healthcare, telemedicine continues to gain popularity amongst both physicians and patients. Physicians are better able to stay in touch with their patients and can provide remote services from just about anywhere, while patients have a more accessible doctor. Appointments can be done same-day, after-hours, or on the weekend. Patients can also avoid the waiting room and receive longer, uninterrupted visits with their doctor.
Remote telemedicine services can benefit not only busy working professionals, who cannot easily take the day off work to see the doctor (or even take their children to the doctor), but certain elderly patients, who find it difficult to leave the house, are taking advantage of the convenient nature behind remote medical care.
If you are unfamiliar with telemedicine, it is important to learn how it works and what the limitations are before you decide to reach out to a telemedicine doctor or company. To help guide you, I have answered some main telemedicine-related questions below. Because each state functions differently, though, and there are multiple insurance plans within each insurance company, it is difficult to answer these questions for each individual person. Instead, the purpose of this is to provide some basic information so you know what questions to ask, or what information you need to gather, before consulting a telemedicine physician.
Can Any Telemedicine Doctor See Me, Regardless of Location?
The short answer is ‘no.’ Unfortunately, a medical license is not like a driver’s license. For the most part, doctors must still apply for a medical license in each state they wish to practice. (To see the states that have joined the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, click here). Furthermore, each state and each specific medical board has their own laws regarding the practice of telemedicine. Some may have very specific guidelines that physicians need to follow, whereas other states may not even recognize telemedicine. It is important to know what is allowed based on the state in which you (the patient) are residing or currently located in. If you are unsure of that state's guidelines, simply ask the doctor (or company) you wish to seek medical advice from.
Summary of California’s Telemedicine Laws (according to Medical Board of California): For initial visits, physicians are required to have a face-to-face encounter with patients, which means this can be in the form of an in-person visit or through a video encounter. Patient consent must be obtained prior to the visit.
Does Your Insurance Cover Telemedicine Visits?
You will need to ask your insurance carrier whether or not the visits will (or may) be covered. Because technological advances occur faster than what can be acknowledged by insurance companies, and insurance companies tend to only cover services that are deemed medically necessary, certain telemedicine services may not yet be covered, which means they would be additional, or out-of-pocket, expenses.
Would Your Concern Be Better Addressed In-Person?
Telemedicine services may always seem like an easier, or more convenient, way to get a hold of your doctor; however, not everything can be handled over a video visit or a phone call. Telemedicine is not meant to take the place of a visit, and that is likely why in certain states the first visit needs to be done face-to-face. It is important to establish a patient-physician relationship before handling things remotely. It will be up to you and the consulting physician to determine whether the visit can be performed remotely or an in-person examination is necessary.
Although telemedicine continues to grow in popularity, there are still certain roadblocks that are restricting its use. Hopefully, within a few years, more insurance plans will cover remote services and, maybe, one day, there will be a universal medical license so all physicians are able help provide remote care, regardless of patient location. Regardless, there will always be certain medical concerns and questions that are better treated by an in-person encounter.
DISCLAIMER: The above information is meant to educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Should you have questions or concerns related to your health, please consult the doctor, or your own healthcare professional.