6 FAQs About Telemedicine
Telemedicine. Remote visits. Virtual doctor visits. Whatever it’s called, it means the same thing: having a medical appointment virtually rather than in person. While telemedicine and telehealth have been around for awhile, when COVID-19 entered our lives, it became a more common way for patients and healthcare providers to interact. Here is what to know about telemedicine.
1. What is the difference between telemedicine and telehealth?
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), while telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, telehealth refers to a broader scope of remote non-clinical services and includes electronic and telecommunications technologies and services used to provide care and services at-a-distance.
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is an example of telehealth. Examples include devices that track your heart, blood sugar or blood pressure, sending the data electronically to your healthcare provider. The Center for Connected Health Policy says that these types of remote monitoring options can reduce readmission, keep people healthier and reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 or, during flu season, other types of viruses.
2. What kind of services can be done virtually?
Your healthcare provider may use a virtual visit (telemedicine) as part of post-surgical check-ins, to diagnose conditions or to discuss lab results or provide additional information, according to Evite. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services booklet lists some of the services that can be done remotely. Your provider will tell you if an in-person exam is required, and if it’s a medical emergency, you should call 911 or go to the emergency room.
3. How is a telemedicine visit done?
If your healthcare provider determines that a virtual visit is appropriate, you will probably be given a time to call in and perhaps a special phone number to use or the link to connect online. Depending on the reason for the call, you may be asked to take photos of skin problems for the doctor to review or use the device’s camera so the doctor can examine you more closely. Your doctor may ask that you prepare for the call by taking your temperature and blood pressure, making a list of your symptoms, and noting any health problems of others in your household.
You can have a telemedicine visit using your smartphone, tablet or computer. Ask your provider if you need to download an app (application) in advance of the visit. Also, either plug in your device or make sure it is fully charged, and make sure you have a reliable and secure internet connection, recommends Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, Inc. (HIMSS).
4. If the telehealth visit is conducted via Zoom or Skype, is it still protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)?
According to Consumer Reports, while it may be easier for patients to use services such as Zoom, it’s important to know that not all tech communication connecting patients and their healthcare providers are bound by HIPAA rules. Privacy rules include encrypting all personal health information, so access is restricted to patient, the healthcare provider, and other authorized people. Also, teleconferencing companies that have signed a “Business Associate Agreement” (BAA) must undertake security audits to ensure their data is well protected.
5. How can I know if the tech communication company is HIPAA-compliant?
You can ask your healthcare provider or check the service provider’s website, although Consumer Reports notes that the phrase “HIPAA compliant” may appear for marketing purposes but not necessarily be true. This Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) page provides more information and lists some vendors that provide HIPAA-compliant video communication products and agree to enter into a HIPAA BAA.
Still worried about privacy or unable to communicate via the internet? You can also request a telephone chat.
6. Are telemedicine appointments covered by insurance? Medicare? Medicaid?
HIMSS recommends you contact your health insurance provider, your state health department or your employee benefits page to ask about the coverage for telemedicine appointments. If you are on Medicare, coverage of telehealth services has been expanded to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 from going to a doctor’s office or hospital. You will pay your usual Medicare coinsurance and deductible for these services. However, always check with Medicare for the most current information regarding coverage.
While in most states, Medicaid beneficiaries should be eligible for telemedicine, some states may have specific requirements that must be met. If you are on Medicaid, eVisit recommends that you verify coverage with your state Medicaid program site.
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