If you don’t want to go to a doctor or to Urgent Care, you can get reliable medical care without leaving your home.
Telehealth, also called telemedicine, lets you talk to a real doctor from wherever you are, by phone, videoconference, and often app. “Telehealth is any way you get care when the patient and the doctor aren’t in the same room,” says Edo Paz, M.D., an internist, cardiologist, and vice president, medical at K health, a telehealth provider. And in 2018, an estimated 7 million people visited a doctor this way.
Over the phone, internet, or even by text message, the doctor can hear, see, and discuss any symptoms with you and offer solutions. He or she can diagnose many common ailments this way and order prescriptions for you. This has been a valuable method of providing care to people in rural locations or people who can’t get to the doctor, and is encouraged as a first-line resource during the coronavirus outbreak. Many telehealth services are 24/7, making healthcare easily accessible for people working any shift.
Where to find a good online doctor
The first place to go about finding a reliable telemedicine doctor is to check your insurance plan. Numerous large insurance companies have partnered with established telehealth companies including Teladoc, Doctor On Demand, PlushCare, Amwell, and LiveHealth Online, and American Well, so these options may be part of your plan, with or without a copay.
If your health insurance doesn’t offer this option, you can download and use a telehealth app yourself. All of the above allow anyone to dial a doctor. You may get charged an extra fee, and some still require you to have insurance. But even without it, fees can be as low as $15 per virtual visit. And right now, K health is offering free telehealth visits for anyone who thinks they may be exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, caused by the new coronavirus.
Other ways to find a reliable telehealth service and online doctor:
- Look for apps related to a known healthcare entity like Blue Cross Blue Shield, or a hospital that you trust (about three quarters of hospitals talk to patients via video and other technologies).
- See who the doctors are. The best services list providers’ names and even state license numbers, so you can check them out further online.
- Check that the app uses the form of communication you’re most comfortable with. Some are video-based and require a decent internet connection, others take place largely through text messaging.
What to expect from a virtual visit
Expect the same thing you would in a doctor’s office – you’ll need to fill out your medical history before you ever talk to your doc. So be prepared to tell them about medications you’re taking, any surgeries you’ve had, and your family history of disease. As always, be honest—but interestingly, studies show that people are more forthcoming about sensitive issues like alcohol consumption when engaging through a computer.
What telehealth is really good at
Use telehealth for what it’s best at. By phone or even video chat, doctors can’t see deep into your throat or ears. But telehealth can help with acute needs like telling you whether that red mark is a skin infection or just a mosquito bite (just upload a photo), or whether your bloodshot eyes are conjunctivitis.
How to use telehealth if you think you have symptoms of COVID-19
If you think you have symptoms of COVID-19, a telehealth doctor can help you figure out what to do. “We can’t diagnose that you have the coronavirus,” explains Dr. Paz, “because no one can do that unless you get a test, and testing is really difficult right now, since it’s not available except in limited circumstances.”
Expect a virtual doc to look for “symptoms, exposure, severity, and risk factors,” says Dr. Paz. And then they’ll offer guidance, he says. “If you’re bent over because you can’t breathe, we’re going to send you to the ER. But if your symptoms are fairly mild, we’re going to recommend a quarantine.”
Telehealth can also help with coronavirus panic
If you have anxiety about the coronavirus or about anything else, numerous telehealth services offer therapy as well. K health offers chronic care for people with depression and anxiety, and Teladoc also offers therapy services.
If you want therapy or mental health coaching alone, there are plenty of telehealth providers specifically designed for that, and you can talk to the providers from the privacy of your home office, garage, or even your bathroom. Consider providers like Talkspace and Betterhelp. If you’re curious about therapy and making excuses not to go, know that there are a lot of people out there like you, and check out why it’s good to just make an appointment and do it.
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