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Understanding Virtual Care (Telemedicine)

Overview

What is virtual care?

For some health problems, a phone call or video call with a doctor or nurse can save you time and money. This is called virtual care. It may also be called telemedicine or telehealth. Many hospitals and clinics offer virtual care as another way for you to see a doctor.

You will use a computer, phone, or other device to talk to a doctor or nurse. You may have a live video connection. This may be done from a doctor's office so you can talk to a provider who is somewhere else. Or you may be able to connect from your home.

The doctor or nurse can ask you questions. They may be able to check your blood pressure, pulse, and other body functions through special tools connected to your computer. You might also get a virtual physical exam, if you have the right connection.

How does it work?

Your doctor's office can tell you how to set up a virtual care visit.

You may want to choose a quiet, private place for your appointment. You'll probably log in to your patient portal through the hospital or doctor's office website. Or your doctor might give you a different web address or app to use.

After you log in, you can talk with the provider. You may use video so they can see you. Your connection will be private and secure.

You may be given a device to check your breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, or other body functions at home. The medical office staff can check the results. They may contact you if something changes.

You may get a prescription to fill if you need medicine. You may be asked to come in for an in-person checkup. In some cases, you may need to go to the emergency room.

After your appointment, you may get follow-up information in your patient portal, on your device, or in an email.

When is it a good option?

Virtual care works great when you're a little sick or you're not sure if you really need to go to the doctor. For instance, you can use it if you have flu-like symptoms. Or you could use it if your child has a sore throat.

It also works well for managing some long-term health problems. And if you live far from a specialist, you can get regular follow-up care without having to go to the doctor's office every time.

What are the risks?

Virtual care may use new technology for your doctor's appointment. That means there's a chance that it won't connect. And there are some things the health care provider can only do in person. You may still need to go to the office for follow-up.

Credits

Current as of: August 31, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Heather Quinn MD - Family Medicine