What is Telehealth and When Should I Use It?
We are all working hard to stay healthy! For as long as we can remember, healthcare has always meant a trip to the doctor’s office. Our memories are full of long wait times, sticky chairs, and the overwhelming sound of sniffling patients around us.
With the rise of telehealth, though, healthcare is rapidly changing. It’s no longer necessary to drive to the doctor’s office for every single health concern. In fact, studies show that in 2020, telehealth visits have greatly increased.
However, these services have their limitations. It’s important to understand the benefits and limitations to avoid any potentially dangerous situations. Keep reading to learn what telehealth is and when you should – or shouldn’t – use it.
What Is Telehealth?
By definition, telehealth is the use of digital information and communication technologies to access and manage healthcare services remotely. Telehealth can be used by patients or by doctors to improve or support traditional healthcare services.
In day-to-day life, you might use telehealth in a variety of ways. For instance, by using an online patient portal to email your doctor or ordering medications online. On the other hand, using a food log app is also a form of telehealth.
Telehealth services have already helped tens of thousands of people. Because of it, people in rural and isolated communities have better access to healthcare. Also, patients can be more proactive about their health and they have easier access to specialists. These incredible benefits will continue to improve our lives for years to come!
Telehealth or Telemedicine?
Often, it seems that the terms telehealth and telemedicine are used interchangeably. That can lead to confusion about the nature of those technologies and the services they include.
The term telehealth encompasses a broad range of technologies and services that impact the healthcare system as a whole. Yet the term telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical and education services. All telemedicine services fall under the umbrella of telehealth. So, if you’re not sure which term to use, “telehealth” is usually a safe bet.
When Should I Use Telehealth Services?
Telehealth services are versatile and can serve as a safer alternative to in-person medical visits during a pandemic. Many people use telehealth when:
- They’re on vacation
- The doctor’s office is closed
- Unsure whether to visit urgent care or wait to see their regular doctor
- Can’t leave the kids at home
- A prescription needs to be refilled
- Need to hear lab results
- Can’t afford to take time off work
- Want to save money on healthcare
So, telehealth services may be a good option for you if your concerns are convenience, medication refills, or lab results. Additionally, a virtual healthcare visit can help you if you are experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:
- Asthma and respiratory and sinus infections
- Bladder infections and UTIs
- Canker sores, cold sores, and other mouth lesions
- Chickenpox (varicella zoster virus)
- Cold and flu symptoms
- Conjunctivitis (“pink eye”)
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Headaches, including migraine
- Heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Insect bites
- Joint aches and pain
- Minor physical injuries, such as sprained or strained bones
- Painful urination
- Rashes, inflammation, and other skin conditions
- Sinus pain and pressure
- Small wounds and cuts
- Sore throats
- Sports injuries
If you have any symptoms or circumstances that are not listed above, please keep reading to find out when to avoid using telehealth services.
When To Avoid Telehealth Services
Like any technology, telehealth services have certain limitations. In many circumstances, a virtual healthcare visit is not an appropriate substitute for an in-person doctor appointment. Strained internet connections, low-quality cameras, and physical separation from healthcare professionals can make it difficult for patients to receive a thorough examination or a correct diagnosis.
To avoid putting yourself or someone you love in danger, it’s essential to understand which situations require more advanced care. Anyone in the following situations should skip the telehealth visit and contact emergency services:
High-risk for COVID-19. People at high risk of contracting COVID-19 should phone their doctor’s office if they develop a fever, cough, and shortness of breath—the three telltale signs of a COVID-19 infection. Those at high risk include anyone who is immunocompromised, elderly, or pregnant.
Advanced COVID-19 symptoms. If a person has developed a fever, a cough, and shortness of breath in addition to any of the following symptoms, they should contact emergency medical services immediately:
- Chest pain or pressure
- Confusion, delirium, or difficulty arousing the person from sleep
- Severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Turning blue around the lips
Serious or life-threatening conditions. Any person experiencing a serious or potentially life-threatening health crisis should immediately call for emergency medical assistance. Do not use telehealth services if you’re experiencing any of the following signs or symptoms:
- Chest pain or other signs of a heart attack
- Difficulty breathing
- One-sided weakness, facial drooping, or other signs of stroke
- Suspected broken bones
- Unexplained change in mental status, such as fainting or becoming delirious
Despite its limitations, telehealth could improve our lives in countless ways. So, go ahead and embrace this technology! Be sure to talk to your doctor to see how he is using telehealth technology.
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