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Telemedicine: The Best Ways to Use Telehealth Services

The digital doctor is in: Telehealth services are here to stay. If you're logging on for a visit, take these tips to the doctor with you.

With more and more Americans using telehealth services during the COVID-19 crisis, what are the best tips and strategies for maximizing the consumer telehealth experience?

Those are fair questions to ask given the skyrocketing growth of telehealth medical services.

According to a new report from Pharmacy & Therapeutics, an online resource for health care industry decision makers, the U.S. telehealth market will grow by 80% in 2020, on a year-over-year basis.

Separate data from a survey of 800 U.S. physicians by American Well, a Boston-based telehealth firm “found that the proportion of those using telehealth has increased dramatically in the past few years .”

The American Well survey points to multiple benefits tied to telehealth services – where patients meet physicians, nurses and clinicians digitally over the phone, via video, or via a chat on a digital telehealth platform.

  • 93% said telehealth improves patient access to care.
  • 77% said it contributes to more efficient use of time.
  • 71% said it allows for high-quality communication with patients and 60% said it “adds to the doctor-patient relationship.”

What’s In It for Patients?

Those figures are from a medical care provider’s point of view and not your average  health care consumers.

That’s where some good research can help. Patients who are looking to tap into the growth of telehealth care services are more in the “due diligence” stage with the technology. Specifically, health care consumers may well wonder what’s in it for them with an admittedly intriguing technology.

“Telemedicine enables remote physicians and registered nurses to facilitate non-emergency inquiries across states and even international borders,” said Rafael Solis, chief operating officer at Braidio, which recently rolled out a telemedicine platform called MyHealth Concierge. “Hospitals and clinics operating at a max capacity can use telecare to limit capacity and allow the highest-risk patients to receive the attention they need.”

 “Basically, hospitals are trying to do anything possible to create a safe distance between patients and caregivers, and what better way than to provide virtual care?” Solis said.

Know That Physicians Want to Steer You to Telehealth Services

Doctors, therapists and other health care providers want to make telehealth work for patients, and will go to extra lengths to make your digital visit a superior one compared to an onsite visit.

“Telemedicine is the future of American medicine because it is the most cost-effective use of the doctors' time,” said John Bijan Farhangui, founder of SAMI-Aid, an online healthcare concierge platform. “Demand for doctors in this new area is high despite the benefits, as doctors get used to these new platforms.”

Farhangui said that general practice physicians have a financial interest in making your digital visit a good one.

“Doctors who typically make about $200,000 per year can make twice that amount in telemedicine, and with fewer headaches,” he said. “Doctors do not have to worry about billing or staffing and their quality of life is vastly improved - and that translates into better care for patients.”

To Get the Most From Telehealth Services, Sign Up and Be Prepared

Register fully with the telemedicine service, whether that’s through your insurance or a private provider.

“By registering thoroughly, you’ll ensure that the medical experts on the other end of the appointment have easy access to all the relevant information about you to make a diagnosis or recommend treatment,” Farhangui said.

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Before your telehealth appointment, it’s also a good idea to jot down some notes about the symptoms you’re experiencing. “The more detail, the better,” added. “The more information you can provide a doctor during a telemedicine appointment, the more effective the appointment.”

Know the Potential Form of the Telehealth Appointment You’re Making

 In general, telehealth visits fall into three main categories.

Medicare Telehealth Visits. “These visits include interactive audio and video communication with real-time interaction between the practitioner and the patient,” said Art Cooksey, Founder and CEO of Let’s Talk Interactive, a HIPAA compliant telehealth solutions provider. “This has the same reimbursement as a traditional face-to-face visit and is classified as such. Flexibility will be granted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in regards to coinsurance and deductibles which would typically apply to such services.”

Virtual Check-In. This includes remote evaluation of patient-submitted images or video, and brief telehealth communication for patient management. “Patients have to be established with the provider and provider billing prior to submission,” Cooksey said.

E-Visits. These visits are the most common form of telehealth services. “They require a provider-patient established relationship and require the patient to initiate the virtual visit,” Cooksey said. “Practitioners may reach out to patients in regard to the availability of services prior to the patient’s inquiry. All communication is via patient portals and coinsurance and deductible would apply to such services.”

How to Engage in a Telehealth Meeting With a Health Care Professional

Health care consumers should take several action steps to produce the best telehealth visit outcome. “Be sure that you’re in a private and safe location,” said Nikki Winchester, a licensed psychologist and owner of the Cincinnati Center for DBT. “You need to be located in a place where the session will not be overseen or overheard, preferably behind a locked door if others will be home so that you’re not interrupted.” Winchester offers the following specific tips when meeting with a health care practitioner remotely.

Remove possible distractions during session:

  • Cell phones should be turned off or on vibrate. “Don’t text during the session, use email, use the internet, or engage in any other activities on the computer during sessions because this may distract you or interfere with some software,” she said.
  • Turn off televisions and radio.
  • Place pets in another room.
  • Put any other devices connected to the internet to “airplane mode.”
  • If using your phone, put “do not disturb” on so the session does not get interrupted.
  • Be sure to have your devices fully charged prior to your scheduled appointment and/or plugged into a power source.
  • Be sure to put your device at eye level and on a solid surface versus holding it during the session to reduce distractions. “Place the device in a position to where the provider can consistently see your face,” Winchester advised.
  • Close all browser windows besides the one you use for your appointment so that you get the best internet connection.
  • Wear ear buds/phones to eliminate noise, ensure privacy, and increase ability to hear.
  • Have lighting in front of you, not behind you. “If any light is behind you’ll look like you’re in the dark,” she added.

“If you’re experiencing technical difficulties, log off and log back on,” Winchester said.
“Make sure you’re using the correct internet browser and make sure you have enabled camera and audio. Also, check to see that your device's volume level is up – you can check that on your telehealth services web site, before your meeting.

The Future Is Now With Telehealth Services

Telemedicine is already becoming mainstream, as more office visits are shifted to digital mode.

“It's already here, and if you don't believe so you're already behind,” Solis said. “I experienced this firsthand while vacationing last year in Yosemite, where the nearest hospital was nearly two hours away, but I was able to locate a virtual care clinic within 20 minutes of where I was staying and was able to get my issue addressed.”

In the future, health care consumers will see innovation going beyond just connecting to a virtual doctor, as well.

“You'll see the rise of integrated devices that allow patients to take or monitor their own vitals, administer medications without a doctor or nurse, and much more,” Solis added. “Simply put, telemedicine is the future of medicine.