Go back

Is Telemedicine as Safe and Effective as In-Person Care?

Telemedicine, or telehealth, is a way to receive healthcare services remotely, typically via web conferencing or phone call. Some telehealth services can occur entirely via text message or chat. Telehealth can be a convenient, safe way to receive medical care, but many patients have questions about whether virtual medical care is safe, reliable, and accurate.

Use of telemedicine has steadily increased in the recent past as technology has improved and has also dramatically increased during the coronavirus pandemic. It is anticipated that telemedicine will continue to serve a large role in the delivery of healthcare services going forward.

How Does Telemedicine Work?

Telemedicine covers a wide range of clinical activities that can be performed remotely and can include remote monitoring of health and vital signs, providing patient education, and live virtual video appointments. Telemedicine can be synchronous or asynchronous, meaning the patient and clinician can communicate live or with a delay (like via email).

Telemedicine appointments require that participants have necessary technology and appropriate Wi-Fi or cellular coverage.  Also, before the appointment, insurance coverage and copay requirements should be confirmed and consent obtained.

In general, a virtual telemedicine visit progresses similarly to an in-person visit, except that certain information, such as vital signs, may need to be self-reported by the patient, and the physical exam may be more focused and limited.

Benefits of Telemedicine

  • Reduced time for appointments
  • Reduced transportation costs
  • Improved access to medical care in remote areas
  • Improved safety/reducing risk of transmitting a communicable disease such as COVID-19
  • Aiding in monitoring of quarantined patients
  • Providers who are quarantined may be able to continue to provide care
  • Ability to efficiently and more easily monitor and manage chronic conditions, especially through remote monitoring devices
  • Improved access to mental health care services

Limitations of Telemedicine

  • Limited ability to provide certain type of traditional care, such as physical touch, presence, and emotional connection
  • Cannot interpret body cues, and interpretation of facial expressions may be exaggerated by both doctor and patient
  • Limited physical examination
  • Not appropriate for managing all medical conditions
  • Difficulty in monitoring the safety and quality of care
  • Limited access to those with certain barriers, such as lack of technology or internet access, lack in technical ability as for older patients, or those with language or socioeconomic barriers
  • Technology difficulties or malfunction
  • Inconsistent reimbursement models
  • Legal and regulatory issues
  • Concerns about security, privacy, and confidentiality

Can I Get Safe, Quality Care via Telehealth?

Telehealth has been shown to improve clinical outcomes in certain conditions, for example in diabetes care management and heart failure care.

In some cases, provider policies and practices may differ with virtual visits. One study found an increased number of antibiotic prescriptions were given to those with virtual visits versus in-person visits.

Not every kind of medical appointment is appropriate for a telemedicine visit.  Telemedicine visits are best for follow up visits with a doctor you’ve seen before, when you need to monitor a chronic condition, get a refill of a medication, have an exam for an area that can easily be assessed by a video appointment (such as a skin exam), and for counseling and mental health visits.  Telehealth visits are less appropriate when seeing a new doctor for the first time, need to have a physical exam, or need to have labs or radiology tests done.

Does Telehealth Cost Less than In-Person Care?

Telehealth appointments overall are lower cost vs. traditional in person visits. This is especially true for people paying out-of-pocket; however most insurance plans now cover telehealth visits.

Regulatory Challenges

Though telemedicine is now a well-established and growing mode of receiving healthcare, there are a number of regulatory challenges, including issues regarding education of medical students and residents, health information data security, insurance coverage, licensing of providers across state lines, and prescribing of controlled substances.

Get In Control

The POV offers a free directory of reputable telemedicine providers to help you make an informed decision in the digital age.

Recent posts

How to Find a Provider Who Offers Pain Management for IUD Insertion & Other Procedures

Read more

The No Bullshit Guide to Painful Sex & What To Do About It

Read more

The Ultimate Gynecology Guide: Everything You Should Know

Read more