How does telehealth work?
A patient at a local health care facility (or even from home
in some cases) can have a telehealth encounter with a specialty care provider
who is located at a distant site through a video conference. A nurse will often
be on hand at the local facility to conduct physical examination tasks (heart
rate, blood pressure, temperature, etc.) as requested by the specialist at the
distant site in order to give you the best care. Cameras and other monitoring
tools allow the specialist to see on screen exactly what the nurse is seeing in
person. For example, during a dermatology exam, the specialist is able to zoom
in and polarize a few of the skin concern. Aside from the technology, sessions
are treated like an in-person appointment. As one of our NRTRC members once
pointed out, “The technology just falls away and it’s a discussion between the
doctor and the patient."
I have heard the term mHealth. What’s that all about?
Mobile health, often referred to as mHealth, is nothing more
than telehealth delivered using a wireless serices (cell phones, tablets,
etc.). mHealth is simply a tool for the practice of telemedicine. mHealth is an
important step toward bringing care closer to the patient.
How can I access telehealth care as a patient?
Access to telehealth services is rapidly expanding across
the country. If you’re interested in telehealth, call your provider and ask
whether they offer telehealth services. Many hospital systems, independent
specialists and specialist groups now offer telehealth services, so chances are
good that your primary care provider (PCP) will have access to specialty care
for patients. (For PCPs that do not have telehealth services available, there
are myriad resource centers that can help them get started. ) Additionally,
there are numerous direct-to-patient (DTP) businesses starting up. These
businesses offer urgent care options though a patient’s home computer or even a
tablet or smart phone.
Is telehealth safe for me and my family?
Yes. Telehealth is guided by medical best practices and
standard-of-care policies for the specialty delivered. Telehealth is a safe and
cost-effective means of providing and receiving health care. The American
Telemedicine Association has produced a series standards, guidelines and best
practices for healthcare providers to guide them in developing their practices.
Those guidelines are available here.
Is there a difference between telehealth and telemedicine?
No. The term telemedicine reefers specifically to patient
and health care provider encounters for diagnosis and treatment of medical
conditions. The term telehealth is a broader tem that includes telemedicine,
but also includes using the technology for preventive, educational and
health-related administrative activities. Telehealth is typically used as a
broader term to describe remote healthcare education and administration and
wellness consults that lie outside clinical services. Telemedicine refers to
direct clinical care. See the TRC Coalition statement on the FAQ Home Page.
Can telehealth help me and my family?
Telehealth is designed for one purpose: to bring primary and
specialty health care services to remote areas and underserved populations
where such care might not be readily available. Telehealth can bring more
timely services to you when your need is urgent and the follow-up care can be
done in your home town in many cases. Potentially, telehealth can save you and
your family travel expenses, lost time from work and the costs of getting to
care centers miles from your home.
Will telehealth stop me from visiting my doctor’s office?
While technology will continue to enhance
the delivery of healthcare as we know it today, it will never eliminate the
need for in-person interactions with your primary care provider. Your personal relationship with
your doctor will always be of key importance for your health care. Just
as e-mail changed the way we communicate, telehealth is changing our definition
of the ‘typical’ office visit. The results will lead to improved access to
care, lower cost of delivery, and, ultimately, improved patient outcomes.
While direct-to-patient (DTP) outlets offer limited care in the home, they can't take the place of your own doctor. DTP providers simply make seeing a physician easier for urgent care. And they may just refer you back to your primary care doc in certain cases.
Will my insurance cover telehealth?
For private insurers:
In many cases, telehealth services are covered by insurance.
Some states in the
Northwest Region now require private payers to reimburse for telehealth care
(Montana, Washington and Oregon). The laws are different in each state and they
are evolving. To be certain of the reimbursement, discuss the procedure with
your provider. For a comprehensive overview of telehealth reimbursement in each
of the 50 states, visit our colleagues at the Center for Connected Health Policy
circumstances where telehealth isn’t covered by insurance, you will have the
option of directly paying for care you receive and still reap the benefits of saved time
and travel expenses to see a distant specialist.
For Medicare and
Medicaid: Medicare reimburses providers for some services and also reimburses
originating sites (the site where the patient is at the time of the encounter)
a small facility fee. Medicare is slowly expanding the services for which they
Medicaid reimbursement varies from state to state and we
recommend you contact your state’s Medicaid office for information.
Can I use telehealth for an ear infection or a cold?
In theory you can use telehealth for almost any health care concern.
Telehealth encounters are structured similarly to an in-person encounter with a physician. Most
often, however, telehealth is used when a patient needs access to specialized
services not offered by their home provider. On a broader scale, telehealth can
be used for skin cancer screenings, mental health evaluations, orthopedic
consults, management of chronic diseases and a wide range of other medical
A new care access methodology is growing in availability and use.
Direct-to-Patient (DTP) providers are offering the option of seeing a physician
for non-threatening symptoms and may offer treatment suggestions, refer the
patient to their primary care provider or the emergency room, depending on the severity of the
States have different requirements and laws regarding DTP prescribing
and encounters, so you may need to check with local regulations before
contacting a DTP provider.
Does telehealth improve patient outcomes?
Several studies have evaluated the clinical impact
of telehealth and many are very positive for several reasons:
There are many reports that highlight the clinical benefits of
increased access to care that telehealth can provide. In addition, both patient
and provider satisfaction with telehealth rival those measures for face-to-face
- Specialty care can be managed locally and studies show that patients heal better when they are in their home community and family and friends can offer support
- Patients in highly rural areas can receive specialty care 'at home.' This not only helps avoid travel to large cities, but encourages people to get care they might otherwise forego because they feel they can't make the trip
- Remote monitoring helps chronically ill patients manage their condition at home and has been demonstrated to reduce hospital readmissions and emergency room visits.
Several studies have demonstrated the business aspects of telehealth, reporting that telehealth can lower healthcare costs while others delve into the business case for telehealth.
Is telehealth good for my community?
For rural, remote and under-served communities, telehealth can help bring
specialty care that would otherwise not be available, or that would require costly or difficult travel and lost time from work or
school. If a remote specialist orders specific care, laboratory tests or prescriptions, they can be handled by local hospitals, clinics or pharmacies.
Additionally, telehealth can help improve the perception of the levels
of quality care available in the community, which is attractive to people who
are considering moving to an area.