Picture this scenario: After you get home from work, you start feeling vaguely “under the weather.” Knowing that a cold has been going around, you drink a mug of echinacea tea and make sure to get to bed early. In the morning, however, the previous night’s fears become reality: you have an itchy throat, a stuffy nose and maybe even a slight fever.
Once you’ve called in sick (assuming you’re not the type of person who enjoys infecting your co-workers with whatever illness you have), it’s time to figure out how you’re going to get better. At this point, most people grab their go-to cold remedy, scour the pantry for soup, and start catching up on episodes of their favorite TV shows.
In this situation, why would you bother seeing a doctor? That would require calling to set up an appointment, traveling from your house or apartment to the doctor’s office, sitting in a waiting room with other sick people for who knows how long, spending 10 minutes—if you’re lucky—talking to a doctor who’s probably more concerned with the dozens of other patients he’s seeing that day, and going home with a slightly lighter wallet.
If I had to choose between the series of headaches described in the previous paragraph and a Netflix binge session, I would almost always go with the latter. But since this article is supposed to tell readers something they don’t know, allow me to introduce you to a term that you might not be familiar with: telemedicine.
I’m only being slightly facetious when I say that telemedicine is the future. According to the American Telemedicine Association, “telemedicine is the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status.” In layman’s terms, telemedicine allows you to use your computer or mobile device to talk to a doctor via video chat, voice call or text at any time of day, seven days a week.
For smartphone owners, telemedicine is hands-down the most convenient way to get medical advice, especially for minor illnesses. Unlike in-person visits, wait times are minimal and users can select their preferred method of communication. Telemedicine is especially useful if you have kids. When your child has a cold or another minor illness, instead of rearranging your busy schedule to take them to the doctor, you can schedule an early morning video or phone call.
Another reason to give telemedicine a try is cost. An increasing number of insurance companies are offering telemedicine services because they’re cost-effective and encourage patients to make more frequent contact with medical providers, a benefit which reduces long-term health risks. Even if your insurance doesn’t cover telemedicine visits, they tend to be cheaper than your standard doctor’s visit.
Besides consultations for minor illnesses, telemedicine is also good for prescription refills and getting second opinions. Since the practice is still relatively new, state governments are still working on legislation regulating the kinds of medications that doctors can and cannot prescribe via telemedicine. Generally speaking, patients need to have seen a doctor in person before receiving a prescription virtually. But once that in-person relationship has been established, patients can get prescription refills through a telemedicine visit. As for second opinions, telemedicine saves patients from going to doctor’s office to doctor’s office when they’re looking for the right diagnosis.
American Well and Teladoc are a couple of the established players in telemedicine, but there are also up-and-comers like Oscar, which is an insurance company that offers its members free telemedicine services. Check out this list of the top telemedicine companies to explore some other options. You can also book an appointment on Treato.com.