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Telemedicine FAQs

Although telemedicine has been around since NASA started using it to provide care to astronauts in the 1960’s, it has only recently become a mainstream method for healthcare delivery. It remains unfamiliar to many patients and providers alike. If you have questions about telemedicine, you are not alone. Here are some of the most common.

What is telemedicine?

Telemedicine is the practice of providing clinical care to patients at a distance using telecommunications technology. In other words, it is a method of treating patients using the internet and telephone. This can take the form of real-time video visits, secure email, or remotely monitoring a patient’s vital signs.

Are telemedicine and telehealth the same thing?

The terms telemedicine and telehealth are often used as if they were the same thing, but technically telemedicine is a subset of telehealth. Telehealth also includes non-clinical uses of telecommunications technology such as self monitoring, provider and patient education, and medical records management.

Does a patient have to meet with a provider in-person before a visit can be conducted via video?

This is determined on a state-by-state basis. For example in California and many other states it is not necessary for the doctor/patient relationship to be established in-person. However, a prior in-person visit is a requirement in Texas.

Is telemedicine technology difficult to use?

Of course, this depends on the specific application, but in general, telemedicine software is designed to be as easy to use as other familiar modern applications. Patients and providers with a basic familiarity with online apps should be able to quickly figure out how to use a telehealth application.

Will insurance pay for video visits?

In many cases, yes. Many insurers voluntarily pay for telemedicine visits and 26 states have laws requiring them to do so. The laws vary, so it makes sense to learn more about the rules in the state where you live or practice.

What about Medicare and Medicaid?

Medicare: Medicare does cover telemedicine in certain circumstances and with a number of limitations. Some telehealth services including remote radiology, pathology and some cardiology are covered as physician services. Video visits are covered by beneficiaries living in rural areas, but these visits must be conducted at a specific originating site.

Medicaid: Most state Medicaid plans cover some kinds of telehealth services, but each one has a different set of rules and requirements. We recommend having a look at the state-specific information available on www.atawiki.org and the 50 State Telemedicine Gaps Analysis: Coverage and Reimbursement provided by the American Telemedicine Association.

Is telemedicine private and secure?

Yes, but only when it is conducted using an encrypted platform that was designed for the purpose. Consumer apps like Facetime and Skype are not secure enough for video visits.

Is the quality of care the same as an in-person visit?

The quality of telemedicine as a method of healthcare delivery is confirmed by decades of research and demonstrations. Telemedicine has been found to be a safe, cost-effective and convenient way to provide healthcare services.

Who benefits from telemedicine?

There are three main beneficiaries of telemedicine:

Patients: Telemedicine gives patients the opportunity to receive care without a trip to the doctor’s office. They don’t have to take time away from work or family responsibilities. They don’t waste time traveling, or money on parking or public transportation. They don’t risk exposure to other patients with communicable illnesses. And they get better health outcomes and become more engaged in their own healthcare.

Providers: Video visits reduce the time of each encounter, allowing providers to see more patients, more efficiently. This boosts revenue and minimize overhead expenses. Telemedicine reduces no-shows and cancellations. It also helps secure patient loyalty in a competitive healthcare landscape.

The Healthcare System: Even if you never use telemedicine yourself, you will likely benefit from the practice. The efficiency of telemedicine will reduce wait-times for in-person visits, help keep people with non-urgent conditions out of the emergency room, and improve the overall health of the population.

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