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The Importance of Telemedicine During a Pandemic

March 20, 2020

The term “telemedicine” has been in the nomenclature of employee benefits and health insurance companies for many years. However, for most patients, telemedicine or “virtual care” has been a secondary option – a service that they would only consider using if they were seeking a more convenient approach to their healthcare. Even though most telemedicine vendors are priced very reasonably and have wonderful service, studies have consistently shown low utilization of telemedicine services even if it is a more convenient and lower-cost option. In fact, a 2016 study showed that 85% of Americans insured through their employer have “access” to virtual care, but rarely do any employers see more than a 3% utilization rate.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads rapidly through the United States, the reality of telemedicine is not only gaining more recognition by people around the world, but the use of virtual care is becoming a necessity. For the last week, news outlets and commentators have brought it up countless times as the resource that Americans will need to turn to, especially if they are in quarantine. In fact, this week, President Donald Trump tweeted about telemedicine and encouraged its use.
The Direct Primary Care movement is ahead of the curve when it comes to virtual care and telemedicine and has exhibited for years the benefits that telemedicine can bring patients on a day-to-day basis. DPC doctors – unlike their peers who are only compensated by insurance companies – are incentivized to use telemedicine because they do not make any extra money for bringing a patient into clinic, and do not have to worry about spending time filling out insurance paperwork in order to quickly assist a patient with a routine medical question or prescription refill. If telemedicine can save the doctor time, and make a situation more convenient for the patient, everyone wins…except the insurance companies.
People who are new to using telemedicine may be surprised that doctors can actually treat thousands of conditions virtually. In fact, most medical conditions in the primary care office can be diagnosed by the doctor simply using their eyes and by gathering data. For example, a doctor doesn’t have to physically see a patient in the clinic in order to diagnose them with an infection or to tell them that they should stay home from work because they are exhibiting signs of the flu or COVID-19. In fact, the CDC itself is telling Americans to avoid hospitals and medical clinics if they have flu-like symptoms or are coming down with a fever. Patients with access to telemedicine – and especially patients who have a DPC doctor – do not have to worry about leaving their house to get a medical opinion about their symptoms.

If you have access to telemedicine – whether it is through a DPC physician or not – here is how you should be using it right now.

  • Check-in with your doctor – Text or call your provider to be sure you understand their updated protocols for dealing with COVID-19. Find out if they have extended hours, and what they need you to do if you begin exhibiting symptoms.
  • If you are exhibiting symptoms – You need to contact your provider immediately and let them know what type of symptoms you are experiencing. They will know what necessary steps you should be taking.
  • If you need to see your provider in the clinic – You should only go see your doctor in the clinic if you call or text them in advance to set the appointment. If you have a fever or are experiencing symptoms, make sure you wear a mask to the clinic and let your provider know in advance that you are coming.
  • If you need routine care – You should use telemedicine for any routine care, because going into the doctor’s office will only increase your risk for exposure to illness. If you have a question about pink-eye, a rash, a prescription refill, or spring allergies, use telemedicine for this instead of an office visit.
  • Stay up to date – if you have any questions about the COVID-19 outbreak, your provider is there for you to answer questions.
Right now during the Corovonavirus pandemic, patients and doctors both need to embrace the movement of telemedicine. Using virtual care to avoid emergency rooms and the urgent care will not only save you money, but it could save you from a serious illness.
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