Telehealth provides increased access to healthcare for many people, and it can be incredibly useful for acute illnesses and injuries as well as maintaining an open line of communication with your healthcare team.
There are times, however, when a telehealth visit may not be appropriate for your illness or injury and your doctor may want to see you in person. There are injuries that are too severe for telehealth, or illnesses that would be best seen by a doctor in-person to properly manage. However the AMA states that 80%+ of typical illness or injuries can be treated using telehealth. We're going to look at what best qualifies for telehealth service, and when you may want to ask your doctor about having an in-person visit.
Telehealth vs Office Visit
With an increased array of tools that are accessible at home (blood pressure monitor, blood oxygen meter, thermometer, scales, blood glucose meter, and more), it can be much easier for your doctor to manage even your chronic conditions remotely. In many cases, this can alleviate the need to be seen in-person, since the data the doctor needs is readily available to them.
If your symptoms are really bad, it may seem like a burden to drive to the doctor’s office just to sit and wait in the waiting room to be seen for diagnosis and treatment. A telehealth visit can give you the opportunity to get evaluated without leaving your home. Additionally, your physician can prescribe medications without having to physically see you, if they believe your symptoms warrant that type of intervention. The stomach flu, for instance, likely doesn't need to be seen in-person unless it becomes dangerous (not keeping hydrated, for instance). Your doctor can advise you remotely using telehealth and refer you for an in-person visit when needed if you feel worse.
In the event you are extremely ill—such as dehydration, difficulty breathing, or vomiting/diarrhea with pain and blood— a telehealth visit may not be enough. You will likely need to be evaluated with diagnostics that virtual visits cannot provide. You might get that information from a virtual visit, but if that is not enough to ensure you're okay, your physician may refer you to an urgent care, the ER, or schedule an in-person visit.
As we go about our daily lives, there are quite a few places where we can injure ourselves. Just walking up stairs or getting into or out of the bathtub can be difficult, especially as we age. Something we've done 10,000 times might end up in a minor injury on the 10,001 instance.
A sprained ankle, pulled muscle, or bruised arm can potentially be evaluated by a doctor through a telehealth visit. They can give you advice, in terms of limiting mobility, medicine to take for pain, and how often to ice it, and they can tell you when you should see a doctor or a physical therapist.
For broken bones, head injuries, or severe cuts, however, you will need to see a doctor in-person. These are situations where you might need a cast or stitches, and seeing your doctor remotely will not be enough.
Chronic Care Management
For people with chronic pain, diabetes, or other long-term diseases, going into your doctor's office can be an added level of difficulty, especially when you need to be evaluated a few times a month. For these situations, telehealth offers a reprieve—unless something in your treatment plan changes dramatically, you can simply meet with your doctor virtually to describe your progress and current situation.
One of the biggest benefits of telehealth is the potential for a robust network of therapists and specialists. If you have a chronic condition that is worsening or your doctor wants to treat it differently, they can easily send you to a specialist without jumping through all of the hoops of traditional referral processes. In this way, you cut down on a lot of the waiting and time between appointments that office visits create.
While this won't work for all chronic diseases, and it won't always apply to every potential visit, telehealth can cut down on your in-person visits dramatically. Initial physician consultations and routine follow-up visits are common uses of telehealth.
Consider the Scope of Your Illness
No matter what the illness or injury, it's possible that telehealth can be an answer that reduces wasted time and effort going to the doctor's office. Since you can gather your own vitals at home and provide them accurately to your physician, they can do a better job of evaluating your health at distance. For chronic care check-ins, virtual visits eliminate the hassle of driving to and from your doctor's office monthly or weekly.
Still, there are times when your injury or illness is simply too severe and in those cases, you will need to go to Urgent Care, the ER, or see your doctor in-person. Telehealth provides a lot of benefits, but it cannot fully replace seeing your doctor face-to-face all the time. Consider your options, and you may see your doctor remotely online when you first become ill or have an injury, and in most cases your doctor will be able to provide a treatment plan, but sometimes you simply need a healing touch in-person.