As COVID-19 spreads across the United States like wildfire, sitting in a doctor’s waiting room with other patients—some of whom may be infected with this novel coronavirus—can be dangerous to your health. Luckily, in this era of social distancing, you can get treated for mild and most moderate symptoms of COVID-19 without having to step outside– thanks to virtual healthcare. Public health officials are pleading with patients to seek treatment via phone, video chat, or videoconferencing to try and keep this highly infectious disease at bay.
Keep in mind that healthcare providers can’t diagnose a coronavirus infection during a telehealth visit. Still, they can inform you about the signs that suggest a need for urgent care, and they can offer quarantine and self-care tips. (If COVID-19 symptoms aren’t severe, isolating yourself at home, drinking plenty of fluids and getting lots of rest should do the trick.)
Of course, telemedicine has been around much longer than COVID-19. For decades, doctors have used virtual appointments to deal with common chronic conditions like nausea, colds, heartburn, and diabetes. In recent years, clinicians have begun to use high-tech sensors and health and activity monitors, which automatically record and share vitals and physiological data, such as blood pressure and glucose levels. This remote monitoring helps physicians detect the early onset of disease, allowing for early intervention and reducing the chance of hospital admission. And don’t forget that virtual appointments eliminate transportation hassles—a great side-benefit for seniors who no longer drive!
Soaring in Popularity
Although online medical visits haven’t taken off, that’s changing dramatically now that Americans are being encouraged to medically distance. Not only are patients increasingly receptive to telehealth–73 percent of respondents to a recent survey would consider using telehealth to be screened for COVID-19—more healthcare providers are offering the option.
As well, the federal government has temporarily lifted restrictions on the use of telehealth for Medicare. All Medicare enrollees—not just those living in remote areas—can use telemedicine, including visits with out-of-state doctors, during the pandemic. (Take note: during the coronavirus crisis, the Trump administration has waived some enforcement of a federal law that protects patient privacy.)
If you are covered through a Medicare Advantage Plan, you may be offered more telehealth services than what was included in your approved 2020 benefits. If you have private health insurance, your plan may cover virtual visits if provided directly by a doctor or hospital, or through a telehealth service (you might be charged a co-pay fee though). A smartphone app like Teladoc, Doctor on Demand, or MDLive can connect you with a doctor for a fee if you need to pay privately.
Telehealth isn’t going to put bricks and mortar healthcare centers out of business anytime soon. Patients still need to be treated in-person for medical emergencies or some physical injuries, and X-rays and other tests. Still, in most cases, virtual appointments are an excellent option, especially if you are a senior and/or have compromised health.
Preparing for a virtual visit
Before your visit, write down your symptoms and be ready to answer questions about recent travel, if any.
- Make sure to find a quiet space in your home where you are not likely to be disturbed.
- If you are using a video chat, give yourself 10 or 15 minutes to set up and test your equipment. First, close unnecessary programs, and then make sure your microphone is on and that your volume is loud enough. Second, try to set it up so that your camera is approximately eye-level. On the call, try to keep your head in the center of the screen and don’t move around too much, as that can be distracting.
- Finally, keep your doctor’s number and email nearby just in case your connection is lost.