Seeing the doctor without leaving the house is just one of the advantages of telemedicine.

All around the country, people are grappling with what kinds of errands and outings should be considered essential. Unfortunately, healthcare issues can fall by the wayside when compared with the relative safety of staying at home.

Telemedicine is on the rise, and this popular alternative to in-person medical office visits is vital as the nation deals with COVID-19. In a nutshell, it involves a virtual doctor's visit that occurs over the phone or through a secure video platform. While I may use the term "doctor" throughout the article, you may also seek treatment from a nurse practitioner, midwife, or physician's assistant if they are available through the practice you choose.

doctor, telemedicine
Courtesy of Hooman Melamed, MD

What to Expect

  • If you go online to your healthcare provider's website and telemedicine is an option, you should see an icon for booking a virtual visit. Go ahead and click on that and select one for at least 30 minutes in the future—you'll need a little time to get registered.
  • Check-in materials will be emailed or texted to you. You will likely have to confirm your billing information, including a payment source, your contact information, and your current insurance status. You may also be asked to pre-pay your estimated co-pay, just like you would at the doctor's office.
  • Before your telemedicine session starts, you may be prompted to test the audio and video capabilities of your laptop or phone. Have a couple of options handy, just in case one isn't working quite right. You can use a laptop, a desktop, a phone, or even a tablet as long as the microphone and camera work. 

doctor, computer

Courtesy of National Cancer Institute

  • A clinical staff member will initiate the session and get some information from you to triage the reason for your visit. Much like they would in the office, they'll ask you about your symptoms, medication, and family history.
  • When the doctor joins the session, you may be asked to show them the affected body parts. This is completely normal, so have on some loose clothing that can be easily lifted as needed. A one-piece jumpsuit is not the outfit you want to be wearing for this!
  • After a brief visual exam and discussion of your symptoms, the doctor will then walk you through what you are experiencing. You may be prescribed medication, so it's a good idea to have an idea of where you would like the prescriptions called in.
  • The session should finish up with your doctor's expectations of the treatment and guidelines for following up with the office. All of this, from start to finish, should last anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, just like a "regular" office visit!

Clearly, a broken bone or an emergency injury requires a visit to a clinic or a hospital. For routine medical issues though, like allergies, medicine refills, or minor illnesses, a telemedicine session might just fit the bill.

If you do decide to go the virtual route, make sure to get all of your questions answered and be clear about the follow-up plan. Just because you're staying home doesn't mean you shouldn't get a major bang for your healthcare bucks.

Have you tried telemedicine yet? What did you like or dislike about your virtual consultation? Let us know in the comments!