How Does Telehealth Work, and What Are the Benefits?

Senior woman speaking with doctor via tablet for telehealth appointment.Telehealth allows you to connect with your health care provider virtually and have an appointment without going to a physical location. You can share information about your health concerns through telemedicine and receive professional opinions from your home. Patients connect with health care professionals using computers, phones, and tablets.

Types of Care Available Through Telemedicine

Although some medical services require in-person contact with a health care professional, many types of care are available through telehealth. Telemedicine encompasses a wide variety of care, including:

  • Assistance with recurring conditions
  • Dermatology appointments
  • Managing viral and bacterial infections
  • Lab test results
  • Physical therapy
  • Prescription management
  • Post-surgery care
  • Mental health services

The Rise of Telehealth Amid the Pandemic

According to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, the pandemic sparked an increase in the use of telehealth, as people sought care without the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Before the pandemic, telemedicine was less common, often primarily used for psychotherapy and monitoring chronic conditions.

In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised people to contact physicians online to avoid spreading COVID-19. From March 2019 to March 2020, the CDC reported a 154% increase in telehealth use. Today, telehealth continues to be an option for people seeking medical care.

Using Telehealth

With telehealth, you can have a virtual appointment with your doctor and communicate via phone or video call. Using remote monitoring, you can send your doctor information about your vital signs. Outside of your appointment time, you can exchange secure messages and pictures with your health care provider.

You can share lots of detailed information with your doctors, such as your weight, blood pressure, and vitals, as well as medical records and images of wounds or other conditions. Your doctor can give you instructions about how to manage your health problems at home and can provide suggestions for how to improve your quality of life.

Benefits of Telehealth

Although some severe medical concerns require in-person visits to doctor’s offices or emergency rooms, telehealth benefits many patients:

  • Reduction in risk of infection. With the pandemic a significant concern, telehealth reduces the risk of contracting COVID-19 — or another infectious disease — at the doctor’s office. People with underlying conditions or in high-risk groups can avoid infection.
     
  • Better resource allocation. Per the CDC, telemedicine also helps medical professionals allocate resources effectively in a pandemic, as it preserves personal protective equipment and reduces patient demand in health care facilities.
     
  • Easier access. For those who have trouble driving or leaving their home or who live in remote places, telemedicine makes health care more reachable.
     
  • Timesaver. Visiting the doctor this way can also save time, as you do not have to commute to an office.
     
  • Faster communication. Patients who have difficulty traveling independently or who are self-isolating may be able to receive faster care over the internet. Online communications and appointments can alert doctors to severe medical concerns quickly. In some cases, doctors may advise patients to seek emergency medical attention.

As it supplements in-person care, telehealth can help patients communicate with their providers more efficiently and effectively, making health care more accessible.