What is Telehealth?

I have been a Nurse Practitioner 16 years, and I have my own company named “TelehealthNP”. So, I was surprised this week when my dad and sister-in-law both asked me “What is telehealth?”  A close friend asked me the same question. This was an eye opener for me since each family member and friend has heard me speak of telehealth.

Whether or not you have heard the term “telehealth”, “telemedicine” or “telepsychiatry”, I hope to clarify these terms for you. I am sure you will hear the term “telehealth” more in the future, especially since the coronavirus is changing how we interact with others. You may find you need to reach out to your nurse practitioner, physician and therapist via this method.

The prefix “tele”- means “to, or at a distance”. You may be familiar with the prefix “tele”- as in television, telecommunications, telephone. Telehealth is accessing health care from a distance. Telemedicine is accessing medical care from a distance. Telepsychiatry is accessing behavioral health services from a distance. “Virtual visit” is also a common term. For the purpose of this article, telehealth and virtual visit will be used interchangeably. You may find it easy to compare connecting with a health care provider via telehealth to connecting with work colleagues face to face via meetings like Go to Webinar or Zoom.

Telehealth aims to connect patients to providers who are separated geographically. Each state has its own definition of telehealth, as well as its own laws governing telehealth’s use and coverage. If you are interested, you can find more information here.

Who uses telehealth services?

Insurance companies. Some insurance companies have sought to reduce costs by providing virtual visits to their members. Utilization of telehealth has been slow to gain popularity among the public. However, this may change. On Friday, March 6, 2020, CVS announced it would provide telemedicine visits to Aetna members for 90 days without out-of-pocket costs, which means no copays. Other insurers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and Cigna are expanding their telemedicine policies. Last week, Congress brought bill HR 6074 to President Donald Trump to sign. This bill, the “Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020”, allows the Secretary authority to make modifications to Medicare’s telehealth restrictions for emergency areas.

       Providers. Physicians, Nurse Practitioners, Physician Assistants and Behavioral Health specialists will be on the other side of your computer or tablet screen providing you services.

Individuals. You. If you can’t see your general provider, maybe a telehealth visit is right for you. Ask if your primary care provider provides telehealth visits. If not, search online for a telehealth provider who meets your needs regarding your specific concern. Here are some tips as you consider when using telehealth.

  • Access reliable sites for care
  • Ask what training and certification the provider has
  • View the URL to ensure it starts with “https” instead of “http”. This indicates the site is secure. A padlock icon may replace the “https”.
  • Ensure the website states it meets HIPAA standards for privacy and security
  • Determine if you will pay for the telehealth visit via insurance, health savings account, or credit card. This will determine what type of information you will need to provide (insurance card, HSA or credit card).

Typically, each visit is $50-$75

Where are telehealth services used?

Telehealth services are provided via computer, tablet or phone. Telehealth services can connect you with providers in state and across state lines. However, your provider needs to be licensed in the state in which you reside.

Why use telehealth services?

The chief benefit of a telehealth visit is its convenience. No matter where you are, you can connect with a provider or therapist. This is especially useful for mothers of small children, businessmen and women who can’t leave work, elderly who have difficulty with transportation, etc. Another benefit is low cost. If you must pay out-of-pocket for your health care, telehealth visits cost a fraction of an office visit. If you have insurance, check to see if telehealth visits are covered. It’s easy and convenient. The biggest barrier to using this wonderful service may lie only in your unfamiliarity with it!

References

Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 2020. Definition of Tele-. Retrieved March 15, 2020 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tele

HealthIT.Gov. 2020. What is Telehealth. Retrieved March 15, 2020 from https://www.healthit.gov/faq/what-telehealth-how-telehealth-different-telemedicine

Washington Post. 2020. Pence says health insurers have agreed to…  Retrieved March 15, 2020 from https://twitter.com/washingtonpost/status/1237408645543014401?s=20

CVS. 2020. CVS Health announces COIVID-9 resources for Aetna members. Retrieved March 15, 2020 from https://cvshealth.com/newsroom/press-releases/cvs-health-announces-covid-19-resources-aetna-members