Can Telemedicine Help You Cope With a Chronic Illness?

Use your computer, ipad or cell phone to simplify doctor visits

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Do you have a chronic illness, such as diabetes or high blood pressure? The back-and-forth office visits with your practitioner can get old very quickly. But you know they are important. They help keep you on course for treatment and also ensure that your medication is working well. Still, you may wonder: Is there an easier way?

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Today, technology offers a convenient option. Telemedicine, which allows you to use your smartphone, tablet or desktop computer to visit your doctor for follow-ups.

With video and email, you often can get care through telemedicine without disrupting your schedule, says Family Medicine practitioner, Mark Rood, MD. “If the provider knows the patient — and if the patient agrees to it — the doctor can provide disease management remotely,” he says.

“If the provider knows the issues, and there’s no need for a physical exam, the patient can decide whether to use telemedicine or return to the office every three weeks.”

While physical exams are important at first, 90 percent of what a physician uses to provide care comes from your health history. After that conversation, your doctor often can provide care through telemedicine exactly as he or she would in at an office visit, Dr. Rood says.

Follow-up visits: Monitor and report from home

In most follow-up visits, your doctor checks how you are responding to your medication. If you have equipment to monitor your blood pressure, blood sugar, or weight at home, you can easily report that information from home by email.

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“Physicians can monitor responses to drugs or interventions this way to see if they need in-person follow-ups,” Dr. Rood says. “It’s more convenient for patient and provider to do this in a virtual setting rather than brick-and-mortar.”

Monitoring your health this way also makes it less disruptive to your daily routine. You’re already monitoring your condition, so meeting your doctor via your smartphone or tablet reduces the impact on your time.

Telemedicine for other follow-up care

In addition to managing chronic illnesses, telemedicine works well for follow-up care after you have an orthopedic procedure and even if you have depression, Dr. Rood says.

Here’s why it works:

  • Orthopedics: Return visits focus mainly on determining range-of-motion. But you can demonstrate how well you’re healing just as easily in a face-to-face meeting with your doctor on your computer. He can see how well you’re moving.
  • Depression: Follow-ups for depression and anxiety focus on how you’re feeling and sleeping, as well as your appetite, concentration, and whether you’re having suicidal thoughts. Again, you can talk with your doctor face-to-face on your computer or smartphone. It’s the same conversation that would occur in the office, Dr. Rood says.

What are the challenges of telemedicine?

While telemedicine has its limitations, it’s ideally suited for managing chronic conditions when a full, physical exam isn’t required. Much also depends on whether your practitioner offers telemedicine. Not all doctors provide this service.

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Here are some other possible challenges:

  • Technology glitches: Sometimes technology doesn’t cooperate, and you aren’t able to sign in for your appointment. Make sure your doctor’s office can help with technical support over the phone for using telemedicine, Dr. Rood says.
  • At-home devices are sometimes necessary: You may need special equipment to monitor your illness at home. For example, for high blood pressure, you’ll need a blood pressure cuff that’s calibrated to match your doctor’s. For congestive heart failure, you must have an accurate scale.

Overall, Dr. Rood says, telemedicine is an efficient, effective way for your doctor to keep tabs on your illness and keep your treatment on track.

“This is where telemedicine thrives, because it lets patients relay their stories of what’s bothering them to the doctor,” he says. “This is the cornerstone of medicine, where doctors glean the most information from patients to help them provide care.”