Have You Tried Telemedicine? 7 Pros and Cons

Video conferencing can bring the doctor to you

On-demand telemedicine is a modern-day version of the doctor’s house call. With your smart phone or tablet, you can find a convenient way to access quality medical care.

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In many cases, you can still have a face-to-face meeting with your health care practitioner through your screens, and through video or smartphone conferencing, says Family Medicine practitioner Mark Rood, MD. However, depending on your symptoms, it may or may not be the best way to work with your doctor.

It’s important to know the many benefits as well as the limits of on-demand telemedicine.

Benefits leverage technology

Below, find some of the many upsides of telemedicine:

Convenience. “The greatest benefit of on-demand telemedicine is the ability to have access anywhere, anytime to health care,” Dr. Rood says. “It’s the fastest way to access a provider.”

And, while on-demand telemedicine isn’t a good idea when you have complicated needs, it often works well when you have a straightforward complaint, such as a cold, allergies, rashes, sprains, strains or joint pains.

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In many cases, your doctor can quickly assess your symptoms and answer questions about antibiotics or other medications. And, if you need additional care, he or she can save you time by scheduling a visit to the office or to an urgent care center or specialist.

Time savings. By logging in to a telemedicine system via your smartphone or tablet, you can receive medical care in minutes versus hours. Instead of leaving work and driving to the doctor’s office, you may talk with your physician in between phone calls at your desk.

On top of saving time traveling to an appointment, you don’t have to spend additional time sitting in a waiting room. This also eliminates your risk of being exposed to illness from other patients.

Affordability. Insurance often covers on-demand telemedicine visits because they’re generally less expensive than in-clinic appointments, Dr. Rood says.

Privacy. Telemedicine systems abide by all HIPAA guidelines and offer you the same level of privacy you receive when you see a doctor in the clinic, Dr. Rood says.

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Drawbacks involve limitations

While the benefits are many, be aware — there are sometimes drawbacks when you choose to use telemedicine, Dr. Rood says.

Not suitable for all cases. You will get a swift evaluation of your symptoms with on-demand telemedicine, but you can’t get a full, routine physical exam. In some cases, such as when you need a strep throat test that requires a swab, a remote consultation may not be sufficient. Your telemedicine provider can arrange for the additional testing.

Possible electronic glitches. Because your appointment depends on technology, you’re at the mercy of anything that can interrupt your connection — bad weather, loss of power or even outdated software. In most cases, Dr. Rood says, smartphones and tablets offer better connections than desktop computers.

Not offered by all doctors. As a busy person, you might be ready for telemedicine, but not all doctors are ready. Some are still wary of offering services in this way, Dr. Rood says, for good reason, as not all telemedicine services are of the same quality. If you prefer to access your health care from your home or office, you may need to look around for a physician who offers telemedicine services, ideally affiliated with and supported by the healthcare system you trust.

While it’s still in its early days of adoption, Dr. Rood says more and more people are trying out telemedicine. “You don’t have to drive anywhere or do anything,” he says. “In the right circumstances, it can offer access to a quality provider who can meet your needs.”

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