by Dana George | Updated July 21, 2021 - First published on April 3, 2020
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If you're feeling unwell but don't want to sit in your busy doctor's office, telehealth offers another way to be diagnosed.
It's a tangled mess. You need to see a doctor because you think you may have COVID-19 (or some other illness), but don't feel well enough to drive and/or don't want to sit in a waiting room full of sick people. And if you live in a region of the country currently overrun with the very sick, you may have reservations about stretching the already-thin resources of medical personnel.
That's where telehealth comes in. The Health Resources Service Administration describes telehealth as the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support healthcare from a distance. Essentially, what that means is that healthcare services can work remotely -- and you can speak with a physician without having to make a trip to the doctor's office. The communication methods used by telehealth providers are already being used by the millions of Americans currently working from home.
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There was a time when a family doctor would drop by the home of a sick patient, just to save them a trip out. And doctors attempted to diagnose patients via telephone as early as the 1950s. If you've ever been pregnant and made a call into your obstetrician's office because you thought you were in labor, you've already had experience with telehealth.
The practice of telehealth consists of two key components:
While today's telehealth appointments commonly take place via video streaming -- through programs like FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype -- other practices also fall under the telehealth umbrella. They include:
In short, telehealth makes it possible for a healthcare professional to study your condition without you being present in the room. If you are in a high-risk group, that may be especially appealing right now.
One of the things we're seeing as COVID-19 spreads is how patchy the situation is. One part of the country may be inundated with cases while another has very few. Telehealth allows physicians in areas not currently swamped with cases to consult patients in areas where doctors are being run ragged. It's called "geographic load balancing" and it helps balance the workload among available healthcare professionals.
Another way telehealth can help is that it keeps you out of a medical office. In this time of social distancing, you can be diagnosed from your own home without being exposed to other illnesses or exposing others to whatever you may have.
If you have a family physician, start with your current doctor's office. It's possible that your doc puts aside time each day for telehealth appointments or there is a nurse practitioner on duty to cover them. If your family doctor does not offer telehealth appointments, other alternatives are available:
It is important to note that none of these telehealth practices can test you for the COVID-19 virus, but they can refer you for testing if needed.
Many people are facing difficult decisions during the COVID-19 outbreak, but there are resources available to help you and your family stay physically and financially healthy.
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