8 Bone and Joint Problems That Can Be Treated in a Telehealth Visit
Orthopedics—the branch of medicine that focuses on bones and joints—is a pretty hands-on medical specialty. But increasingly, patients and providers are realizing that doctors can help patients manage many bone and joint problems via telehealth. During a phone call or videoconference, physicians can evaluate symptoms and movement, and recommend appropriate care. In some cases, additional in-person testing or treatment will be necessary. Other issues can be handled remotely.
Learn what bone and joint conditions can be treated through telemedicine, including joint pain, lower back pain, and arthritis pain.
1Lower Back Pain
Telehealth allows patients to get expert input from the relative comfort of home—a huge plus if back pain makes movement difficult. During a telehealth visit, patients describe their symptoms. The doctor will ask questions and may ask the patient to attempt some movements to check for loss of strength or mobility. In many cases, back pain can be safely handled at home with medicine and physical therapy exercises—that you can learn via video chat!
There are many different types of arthritis, but each cause joint inflammation, pain and swelling and require long-term treatment. Telehealth appointments allow providers to monitor patients’ response to treatment and gives patients the opportunity to quickly alert providers to changes in function and pain.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center began offering telemedicine consults to patients with rheumatoid arthritis in 2012. A 2016 follow-up study found that 38% of patients who participated in their telehealth program achieved remission within a year, compared to 25% of patients receiving traditional clinical care.
If you (or a loved one) experiences a sports injury, a telehealth consult can help you figure out if you need to make the trip to an urgent care clinic or not. In fact, a 2018 study found that offering telemedicine to youth athletes decreased travel and waiting time, as well as cost of care. A separate 2016 study found that telehealth reduced medically unnecessary emergency department visits by nearly 7%.
Some patients will be advised to seek in-person care. Others can skip the trip and begin treatment at home.
It’s customary for patients to see their physicians a few weeks after bone or joint surgery. These appointments allow providers to check wound healing and assess patients’ progress; they’re also an opportunity to address problems.
Conducting post-surgical appointments via telehealth minimizes unnecessary (and possibly uncomfortable and inconvenient) travel. Videoconferencing lets doctors assess wound healing and patient movement in real time and tweak the patients’ treatment and recovery plan as necessary.
5Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome, a repetitive motion injury, causes pain, numbness and tingling in the hand and forearm. The condition tends to get worse over time, so prompt diagnosis and treatment may allow patients to continue their favorite activities and avoid surgery, at least for a while.
A doctor can evaluate your symptoms during a telehealth visit. You may be asked to move your hand and wrist through a series of exercises to assess numbness and tingling. If your symptoms aren’t serious, the doctor can prescribe at-home treatment. Eventually, in-person care may be necessary.
If you have pain in your shoulder, hip, knee or other joint, a telehealth appointment may be your first step to relief. A doctor can assess your symptoms and make recommendations for additional care and treatment based on your symptom report and video evaluation of your joint. You can manage many cases of joint pain safely at home with over-the-counter or prescription medicine, as well as rest, periodic icing of the joint, and controlled exercise.
If additional testing or treatment is required, your physician will direct you to in-person care.
7Bone or Joint Infections
Bone or joint infections can result from an injury or surgery; an infection elsewhere in the body can also spread to the bones or joints. Without treatment, the infection may cause organ damage. Symptoms of a bone or joint infection include pain, redness and swelling; limited movement; stiffness; and fever. If you’ve recently had surgery, you may also notice signs of infection (including redness, foul odor, and pus) at the surgical wound site.
Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms via telehealth and prescribe an antibiotic, if needed. You may be directed to a healthcare facility to have the infected wound culture-tested for microbiological pathogens.
Twist your ankle while on a hike? A telehealth visit can give you peace of mind. Most ankle injuries don’t require an X-ray or medical treatment, but it can be difficult to tell if your injury is one that should be X-rayed or not. A healthcare provider can look at and assess your ankle injury via telehealth, with your assistance. The provider may ask you to touch your ankle in specific places and report your symptoms. Depending on your response, the provider will either recommend at-home care or refer you to a clinic for medical imaging.