When you’re feeling under the weather or have questions about your health, you usually schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. In after-hour situations, you may even head to an urgent care clinic. But as communication technology advances, your options for care are expanding. Through telemedicine services, you can receive medical advice anytime, anywhere, without leaving the comfort of your home.

What is telemedicine?

Simply defined, telemedicine allows patients to communicate with a healthcare provider using technology, as opposed to physically visiting a  doctor’s office or hospital.   

With telemedicine, you can discuss symptoms, medical issues, and more with a healthcare provider in real time using video, online portals, and email. Using telemedicine, you can receive a diagnosis, learn your treatment options, and get a prescription. In cases where it’s necessary, healthcare providers can even monitor readings from medical devices remotely to keep an eye on your condition. 

There are three common types of telemedicine: 

  • Interactive medicine: Also called “live telemedicine,” this is when physicians and patients communicate in real time.
  • Remote patient monitoring: This allows caregivers to monitor patients who use mobile medical equipment to collect data on things like blood pressure, blood sugar levels, etc.
  • Store and forward: Providers can share a patient’s health information with other healthcare professionals or specialists.

Since the 1950s, healthcare providers have been offering remote services. Telemedicine first began on landline telephones. With the advancement of technology, telemedicine has grown to offer services in a variety of ways. This includes online portals managed by your personal physician, video software that allows for remote consultations.

How do telemedicine services work?

Telemedicine isn’t appropriate for emergency situations like heart attack or stroke, cuts or lacerations, or broken bones that require X-rays, splints, or casts. Anything that requires immediate, hands-on care should be handled in person. However, telemedicine is very useful for simple issues and follow-up consultations.

For instance, if you suspect that a cut may be infected, you can schedule a virtual consultation with your healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms. If you’re on vacation and think you’re coming down with strep throat, you can communicate with your primary care physician. If you need a birth control medication, you can chat through your needs and get a same-day prescription.

It’s helpful for a variety of other health issues including psychotherapy and teledermatology, which offers consultations of moles, rashes, etc. Colds and flu, insect bites, sore throats, diarrhea, and pink eye are some other common issues addressed using telemedicine.