Telehealth: All the Comforts of Home



Once upon a time not too long ago, showing up for a doctor’s appointment in pajamas seemed like the stuff of weird dreams. These days, telehealth services­—sometimes called telemedicine or virtual care—have become a preferred healthcare option.

When you think of telemedicine or telehealth, you probably think of Zoom calls with your physician or therapist. But did you know the concept of incorporating technology with long-distance health care is almost as old as the telephone itself? An 1879 article in the Lancet talked about using the telephone to reduce unnecessary office visits. By the 1960s, television added the visual component to telehealth when a hospital used two-way televisions to conduct video consultations. Some even argue that telemedicine dates back to the Middle Ages, when physicians diagnosed and treated patients using hand-delivered notes. Others reasonably argue it is as old as the practice of medicine itself.

Why am I just now hearing so much about telehealth?

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a dramatic adoption of virtual health. Analysis from McKinsey & Company indicates telehealth use has increased 38x times from the pre-COVID-19 baseline.

Not only have more people turned to virtual care visits in recent years, but more clinicians, primary care providers (PCP), specialists and mental health experts adopted virtual care in order to stay connected with their patients during the global pandemic.

So, what is telehealth?

Telehealth lets your doctor provide care for you without an in-person office visit. When scheduling with your PCP, ask about virtual options. National telehealth guidance suggests patients consider telehealth services for standard interactions and appointments with a provider:

  • Talk to your health care provider live over the phone or video chat.
  • Send and receive messages from your health care provider using secure messaging, email, secure messaging, and secure file exchange.
  • Use remote monitoring so your health care provider can check on you at home. For example, you might use a device to gather vital signs or other vitals to help your health care provider stay informed on your progress.

When should I use telehealth, and what types of care is telehealth best suited for?

Check with your provider to see what services you may be able to get from home:

  • General health care, like wellness visits.
  • Prescriptions for medicines.
  • Dermatology (skincare).
  • Urgent care (to address common conditions like sinus infections, back pain, urinary tract infections, rashes).
  • Nutrition counseling.
  • You can also get behavioral health care through telehealth. This includes:
  • Mental health counseling.
  • Follow up on care plans.
  • Services for substance use disorders, including opioid use disorder.

These services are typically available through telehealth. Ask your provider what they offer. 

What are the benefits of telehealth?

Individuals appreciate the convenience and high level of quality and service virtual care delivers. A Deloitte report found that, on average, 80% are likely to have another virtual visit, even post-COVID-19. Most consumers are satisfied with their visits and say they will use this type of care again.

Though in-person office visits may be necessary in certain cases, there are many benefits of telehealth care.

  • Limited physical contact reduces everyone’s exposure to COVID-19.
  • Virtual visits ensure you get health care wherever you are located – at home, at work or even in your car.
  • Virtual visits cut down on travel, time off from work, and the need for childcare.
  • Virtual health care tools can shorten the wait for an appointment.
  • Increased access to specialists who are located far away from your hometown.

Telehealth is not a perfect fit for everyone or every medical condition. Make sure you discuss any disadvantages or risks with your doctor.

How do I schedule a telehealth appointment?

If you have a provider where you already get care, call their office. Many providers now offer telehealth, even if they didn’t before. If you haven’t seen the provider before, call and ask if they’re taking new patients.

Ask your provider:

  • Do you offer telehealth visits?
  • Is telehealth a good choice for my visit?
  • How do I schedule a telehealth visit?
  • What technology will I need? Will I need to download an app or software?
  • If you’re concerned about privacy: How will you protect my personal information?

Are you a Healthcare Highways member? Check your Member Handbook or call our Customer Experience Team at 1-866-945-2292, 8 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. They are happy to provide extra support and guide you through the process.