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Learning Center / Telemedicine / Telemedicine 101: Understanding the Basics

Telemedicine 101: Understanding the Basics

January 8, 2020

Woman using her phone to video conference with a doctor

Imagine waking up feeling achy, fatigued, and congested. You check your temperature, and it’s confirmed: You have a fever - possibly the flu. So which is it?

The good news is you don’t have to get out of bed and travel to see a doctor to figure it out.

Today we have telemedicine through our site, which connects you with medical professionals by phone or online. And it’s no secret that a fever or the flu is nothing to ignore, so an online doctor can give you a diagnosis and treatment through telemedicine.

What is telemedicine?

Simply put: Telemedicine connects patients with medical professionals in real time by phone or online. Thanks to telemedicine, medical professionals can now evaluate, diagnose and treat patients using technology like video conferencing and smartphones - all without the need for an in-person visit. But it’s important to note that telemedicine is used for non-emergency health situations.

How does telemedicine work?

Most telemedicine companies, like our partner Teladoc, require you to set up a quick account and provide your medical history before agreeing to treat you. Think of it like a standard doctor visit as a new patient: Expect questions like, “What are your symptoms?” “What’s your family medical history?” or “List the medications you’re currently taking.”

Note, telemedicine companies are required to use HIPAA compliant software to certify that your personal health history is protected.

Once you’ve set up an account and filled in your medical history, scheduling an appointment is as easy as opening an app from your smartphone, and once confirmed, entering into a video or FaceTime conversation with the doctor. Within minutes, the doctor can diagnose your medical issue, develop a treatment plan, and prescribe any necessary medication.

What conditions do telehealth doctors treat?

Virtual doctors can treat nearly any non-emergency illness such as:

  • Cold and flu
  • Sinus infection
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Asthma
  • Skin conditions like hives and rashes
  • Women’s health issues
  • Men’s health issues
  • Allergies
  • Migraines

What are the benefits of telemedicine?

For patients:

  • Access doctors who accept your insurance.
  • Get care from the comfort of your own home.
  • Increases access to care, especially to those living in rural areas or have little or no means to transportation.
  • Saves on transportation costs.
  • Reduces the need to take time off of work.
  • Spend less time in the waiting room.
  • Cuts down on the spread of disease, keeping fewer sick people from public waiting rooms.
  • Saves on healthcare costs overall. In fact, one study estimated that patients save approximately $100 on an average telehealth visit, with $75 of that devoted to health care costs and the other $25 to travel and time spent seeking care.

How much do telemedicine appointments cost?

The cost to receive telemedicine services will vary depending on your health insurance plan and the reason for your visit.

As an example, here are certain medical visit costs for an individual living in the Chicago area and staying in-network:

  • 15-minute doctor’s office visit for an established patient: $98
  • 20-minute doctor’s office visit for new patient visit: $81
  • Emergency room visit for a low to moderate problem: $388
  • 50-minute mental health check: $147

And here are average provider costs across the nation:

  • The average cost of a traditional on-site doctor visit: $146
  • The average cost of an emergency room visit: $1,734
  • The average cost of a telehealth visit: $79

It’s important to note that telemedicine is not insurance, though. Instead, it’s a way to provide you with virtual healthcare services 24/7.

Who are the doctors?

The doctors who treat you are board-certified doctors who live in the United States and are licensed to practice in your state. The doctors go through rigorous training and credentialing, so you’ll always get expert advice on your non-emergency medical condition.

Can online doctors treat emergencies?

You should not use telemedicine if you’re experiencing a medical emergency. Always call 911.

Can online doctors prescribe medications?

Yes, telemedicine doctors can write prescriptions for many conditions like sinus infections, colds, allergies, some STDs and more.

It’s important to know that telemedicine providers reserve the right not to prescribe medications, including DEA controlled substances. While telemedicine is a convenient way to get care, it should not replace your primary care physician.

Is telemedicine safe and secure?

Like your primary care physician, telemedicine companies have to comply with all relevant state, national, and international regulations, including the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Unless permitted or required by law, your medical information will not be shared without your consent.

What do I need for my first telemedicine visit?

We've put together a handy checklist to help you prepare for your first visit.

How can I check if I have telemedicine benefits?

Review your health insurance plan to find out if you have access to telemedicine services and providers.

How do I sign up for telemedicine?

If you don’t already have telemedicine benefits, you can get a Teladoc quote and purchase a plan through our site. The process is easy and takes just minutes.

And be sure to check out what Teladoc patients are saying about telemedicine.

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