Although the medical community has been advocating for telehealth for years, it's only now, in the midst of a global pandemic, that many Americans are getting a chance to experience it firsthand.
To protect patients and themselves from the coronavirus, medical providers in nearly every specialty have made the leap to virtual appointments, bolstered by Medicaid's and Medicare's expanded coverage of the practice.
"The American public is getting a crash course in telehealth,” says Mei Wa Kwong, executive director of the Center for Connected Health Policy, a Sacramento, California–based nonprofit that promotes the use of technology in health care. “After this I think you're going to see people saying, ‘Why do I have to go to the office and sit for an hour and be exposed to sick people? During COVID-19 I took care of this virtually.’ “
Telemedicine is especially valuable for older people with limited mobility, Kwong notes, and for those who live in rural areas, hours away from the nearest specialist.
While there are still a variety of medical procedures that can be done only in person (drawing blood, for example, or listening to someone's lungs), the coronavirus pandemic is prompting patients across the country to recognize the benefits of telehealth.
Saves time and hassle
Teri Siegel, 69, knew she needed to see a urologist, but she was nervous about leaving her Charlotte, North Carolina, home during the coronavirus outbreak. So when the urologist's office called last week to see if she would be comfortable switching to a virtual visit, Siegel was relieved, even though she had never tried telemedicine before.
A few days later, via a video chat application on her cellphone, Siegel connected with her doctor, who asked some questions about her symptoms and then prescribed a medication. It didn't just feel safer, Siegel says; it was also a lot more convenient than an in-person appointment.
"It took less than 15 minutes,” she notes. “Normally, I would have to get in my car and drive a half-hour and wait in the office and then get back in the car and drive home. That takes half a day."