Telemedicine and/or telehealth usually refers to a virtual visit by the provider to a distant patient or a patient to a distant provider or a specialist. This is easily understood if one lives in a rural state or more remote area of the country. In such cases virtual connections are common and necessary.

Generally, this has been encouraged by specialists such as allergists, or EENT or mental health providers who are less available to rural or remote settings or clinics.  But since the onset of COVID-19, it has become imperative and may well become the new norm.  The current goal is to prevent the spread of the C-virus from one to another while waiting in a front office to be called next to an exam room.  This is especially important when those patients waiting have a vulnerable condition or existing health problem or simply be in a high-risk designation.

All visits will be virtual for the next several months or longer. Usually the patient uses a web site, link, or an app or text message to exchange information and have a conversation. Text messages per se would not involve a face-to-face visit. Most visits are effective for diagnosing and treating a new condition or more often a follow-up visit with a chronic condition.

U.S. public health officials, hospitals and insurance companies encouraged people to try it for quite some time, but it has been met with reluctance. Now, more than ever before, they are stressing the virtual visit as an option during the coronavirus pandemic. Medicare coverage had been limited, along with Medicaid, to rural sites focusing on those with disabilities or those of low income. Most coverage now includes telemedicine visits, and many waive any fees or co-pays to the patient. Some plans had limits on covering long-term care such as therapy visits; they now have no choice. It is best to check with one’s own policy or plan to confirm available coverage prior to the visit.  One plan, 98point6, charges a $20 annual fee with a $1 per visit out-of-pocket fee. Others have a pre-triage questionnaire in order to set up an appropriate visit, i.e., a dermatologist to examine a mole. It is effective for sinus infections, asthma, pink eye, or fevers, and it is the best alternative for those with potentially infectious conditions who could contaminate others in the reception area.

Advantages include a rapid response time eliminating driving and waiting times. A patient can easily be referred to another specialist. Providers can rely on their usual view of the patient’s general condition and can spot responses and notice changes. Not everything can be cared for remotely, such as suturing an open wound, stabilizing a broken bone, or chest pains. Those in favor of virtual visits become regulars; they enjoy the prompt response, the lack of travel, and the dedicated care. This spinoff of the current situation may well last long after the pandemic is over.

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