Doctors have commonly earned a reputation for being hard to reach and always late. Try calling your doctor to ask a clarifying question once you’ve left the office and you’ll be met with layers of gatekeepers who won’t let you through.
If you want to ask your question, you’ll need to make another appointment and pay for another visit. These inconveniences make simple healthcare needs an arduous and expensive task.
If you’re not ill or seriously injured, there’s no reason to drive all the way to your doctor’s office and pay good money to wait in line, just to ask a question. However, until telemedicine was commonly adopted, that’s what people had to do.
Telemedicine bridges the gap of communication between patient and provider by allowing a quick and direct electronic exchange. It doesn’t happen casually over email, though. The software used by providers for electronic communication is private and the data is heavily encrypted.
Telemedicine is the legal solution for communication
Life would be easier if we could email our healthcare providers to get quick help, but that’s not legal. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) governs the electronic transfer of data considered to be private.
The definition of private data is broad enough to cover even simple appointment times. Any private data must be encrypted to the highest standards; unfortunately, regular email providers don’t make the cut.
You can’t just Facebook video chat your provider. That goes against HIPAA, too.
Telemedicine is a network of HIPAA-compliant communication tools, and has seven major advantages:
- Eliminates excess driving time. Who wants to drive to the doctor to get a prescription refilled, or ask for wart removal cream?
- Provides direct access to your physician. Your communication goes directly to your provider and doesn’t have to be qualified by anyone else along the way.
- Saves money on visits. Telemedicine visits do cost money, but are significantly less than an in-person visit. Many providers will cover your virtual visits. In Minnesota, it’s mandatory for providers to pay for telemedicine visits.
- Prevents exposure to illness in a waiting room. If you’re not severely ill or injured, you can’t afford to be exposed to anything and everything that’s in a waiting room. Especially if you have kids.
- Quick access to behavioral therapy. Prior to telemedicine, it wasn’t possible to access psychiatric care except in person. This is a game changer.
- A large adoption by most providers. No matter what provider you use, even if you have to switch, you won’t have to give up the convenience you’re used to.
- Better health outcomes. Your provider can refer you to the proper resource and save you unnecessary visits to the hospital and other specialists you may not need to see.
Providers benefit, too
Patients aren’t the only ones who appreciate convenient visits. Doctors are often bogged down with work, and they appreciate telemedicine just as much as their patients.
Is two-way video conferencing the future of healthcare?
Most providers have offered messaging services between patients and their providers, but we’re about to see an even bigger technological upgrade.
Amazon has a not-so secret healthcare tech project called “1492,” dedicated to building a platform for virtual consultations through two-way video conferencing. They’re also working on making medical records electronically available to both providers and patients.
Imagine the convenience of being able to have a 15-minute visit with your doctor in your pajamas from your couch. Well, you may want to get dressed for your appointment, but at least you won’t have to do any driving!
MedicSpot in the UK is doing something similar with kiosks located in pharmacies. MedicSpot is a kiosk that serves as a clinic and connects you with a live doctor. Instead of a nurse taking your blood pressure, pulse, and temperature, you do it self-serve style with equipment attached to the kiosk.
These kiosks provide walk-in appointments within minutes, and provide prescriptions, sick notes, referral letters, and general advice. All that for the cost of an average co-pay, without having to wait in line and get coughed on by random people.
Speedy healthcare is here
The technology of telemedicine in healthcare has been slow to come, but it’s rapidly spreading now that it’s here. If you haven’t used telemedicine yet, find out if your provider offers it. You may already be able to email your practitioner through your health provider’s online portal. Check into it next time you have a question for your doctor and are tempted to brush it off because you don’t want to go in for a visit. You could have your answer within minutes!