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By RJ Smith

This article originally published on

Virtual doctor visits offer people an alternative way to connect with their healthcare providers regarding health issues that may not require in-person appointments.

This remote patient monitoring, sometimes also called telehealth, allows patients to conference with a medical professional by telephone, web chat or email, where they can discuss symptoms patients are experiencing, as well as a potential treatment plan.

While, virtual visits with a doctor may differ from service provider to service provider, you may expect it to go something like this:

Many platforms will require you to register an account via a website or mobile app. You can make an appointment and often you will get a call back directly from a healthcare provider during your scheduled time. These virtual conversations may take place via video chat, which can allow the doctor to see any symptoms you may be experiencing – for example more visible symptoms like a sore throat or a rash may be examined. On average virtual visits take about 10 to 15 minutes. If the doctor is able to provide a diagnosis, he or she may call in a prescription and request a follow-up if symptoms persist. 

Some may argue that this method of medical care could impede “bedside manner,” since you may be eliminating the face-to-face interaction of a doctor and patient. However, virtual office visits may offer several benefits.

For one, telehealth can be a great option for people who have mobility issues, or who may not have easy access to a nearby clinic. Telemedicine has also become increasingly attractive to insurance companies looking to be cost-effective. Doctors and hospitals have also expressed interest, because telehealth done right can potentially keep waiting rooms from filling up with issues that can be handled remotely.

But how can consumers get the most out of this new approach to health care? Here are four tips for making the most of telehealth.

Now is a good time to do a little research: This is an opportune moment to start paying attention. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has recently signaled an interest in making virtual medical care delivery services and home monitoring technologies more available to the public. The stated goal is to “allow home health agencies to leverage innovation and drive better results for patients," said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. Services will look a lot different five years from now, so what better time is there to understand how things work?

Check with your insurance companies: A telehealth conference can potentially be cheaper than a visit to your doctor, and definitely quicker, but it’s important to first find out what services and providers your insurance company covers, and how much a virtual meeting with a medical provider will cost.

Jot down your medical history: The more information you have on hand at the time of your virtual meet-up, the more effectively the provider will be able to make use of that time. So make some notes — what is your history? What is the fullest description of your current problem you can present? Since you may be speaking to someone you probably haven’t spoken to before, they won’t know if you have allergies or reactions to specific medication, nor will they know if you are experiencing a new problem or a recurring condition.

Maintain realistic goals: There are of course limitations that come with telehealth services. First, the doctors, psychologists, nurse practitioners and others who available remotely via providers are required to be licensed to practice in the state you where you the patient live. If you live in a smaller state, you may have a harder time finding what you need. Telehealth can help in a variety of ways. But it’s not meant as a substitute for immediate attention on all health matters, and definitely is not the place to go with an emergency. When in doubt, and when an emergency is upon you, contact your regular doctor, visit an emergency room, or dial 911.