Health Concerns That Can Be Treated in a Telehealth Visit
Many healthcare providers and patients are turning to telehealth (also called telemedicine) visits in this era of social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a telemedicine visit, you can receive care from a licensed (and often board-certified) physician or another healthcare provider without having to be seen in person. Providers may offer telemedicine visits via video chat or telephone. You may be surprised by this long list of common conditions treated with telehealth, including dermatology and mental health.
Anxiety, Depression, Mental Health Concerns
In the emerging discipline of telemedicine psychiatry (also telecounseling), a healthcare professional, including a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist, on the other side of a video chat can assess your mood and other mental health symptoms, offer counseling, and even prescribe certain medications to help you feel better. Also called “telemental health,” these services offer confidential, convenient care right in your own home. Telemental health services work best for people who have been previously diagnosed with a condition than by someone seeking a diagnosis. And telemental health doctors can’t prescribe controlled substances (like some antipsychotic drugs) after a video visit, though they can prescribe other medications.
Back pain—especially lower back pain—represents a major reason people visit their doctors each year. But back pain that is not accompanied by symptoms like numbness and tingling in the limbs or loss of bladder control often can be evaluated and treated through telemedicine. Your doctor can interview you to discern your symptoms and then recommend a treatment plan. If necessary, the physician can coordinate imaging studies, such as MRI, to refine the diagnosis. He or she also can electronically refer you to a physical therapy center or transmit a prescription to your pharmacy. All of these aspects of telemedicine make it an ideal first step toward getting relief from that aching back without having to make a special trip to the physician’s office.
Better known as “pink eye,” conjunctivitis is a very common childhood condition that also affects adults occasionally. Because conjunctivitis is highly contagious, a video visit makes perfect sense to avoid exposing other patients in a waiting room to the illness. Your doctor can diagnose pink eye remotely and prescribe eye drops to treat it, along with giving you other advice on how to relieve any discomfort, how long to keep your children out of school or daycare, and how to avoid transmitting the infection.
Telemedicine allows people with diabetes to connect with their doctor on a more frequent basis with fewer visits to the doctor’s office. You can upload blood glucose levels and blood pressure measurements taken at home, diet and exercise information, and any new symptoms. Combined with other electronic records, such as laboratory test results, retinal or wound images, and other scheduled appointments, you and your doctor may be able to effectively monitor and treat your diabetes using telemedicine.
When your child has an earache, it can be much more convenient and less stressful for everyone involved to have it diagnosed using telemedicine than visiting the pediatrician’s office. During a virtual visit, the doctor can visually examine your child, get details about the symptoms, and even prescribe medication to clear up that infection. Before the virtual visit, jot down notes about when the condition started, whether or not your child has or had a fever (and to what degree), your child’s history of ear infections (if any), and any other information you think will be helpful. Having this information at hand will make your telemedicine visit go smoothly and quickly.
Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Telemedicine offers a convenient way to manage your heartburn and GERD without the need for frequent visits to your healthcare provider’s office. You can send messages through the patient portal to request a call back, alert your doctor to new or worsening symptoms, or request a refill or change to your medication. Some providers offer “online visits,” in which you fill out symptoms and other information in a browser-based form on the provider’s website. Submitting the form sends the data and comments to the doctor, who can reevaluate your symptoms and modify your treatment or order additional testing, if required.
Influenza, COVID-19, Other Infectious Diseases
Because telehealth uses remote medical technologies to assess patients from afar, telemedicine makes an excellent choice for initially evaluating symptoms of a contagious disease like influenza (flu), COVID-19, shingles, or chickenpox. Your healthcare provider can evaluate your condition and issue prescriptions or advise you regarding next steps to take (such as going to the hospital, if warranted). You should not use telemedicine if you’re experiencing any life-threatening symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath in conjunction with any signs of infectious disease, however. In that case, call for emergency responders.
You can coordinate migraine care with your doctor using several elements of telemedicine, such as virtual visits and the patient portal. Through a virtual visit, you can update your doctor regarding the frequency of your migraines and the effects (and side effects) of any medications you take to treat them. You also can send messages through the patient portal to coordinate prescription refills, provide a status update, or request a call back. Using telemedicine can help you manage your migraines without the need for frequent doctor visits.
Minor Cuts, Burns, Other Skin Conditions
Your primary care provider or a dermatologist can assess minor cuts, scrapes, burns, rashes, and other skin conditions through a video visit. In fact, “teledermatology” (or “telederm”) is on the rise as an efficient way to evaluate skin conditions of all types. With telederm, you can receive a diagnosis of acne, eczema, diaper rash, and other conditions from the comfort of your own home. If telehealth services are covered by your insurance company, you may need to access telederm through a proprietary smartphone app. Check with your insurer for details.
Nausea, Vomiting, Diarrhea
Because nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea all can be signs of a communicable illness, telemedicine offers a great way to have your (or your child’s) symptoms evaluated without potentially exposing other patients sitting in a waiting room. During a phone conversation or video visit, your doctor can obtain a history of your symptoms and potentially diagnose the cause. Depending on the diagnosis, your doctor can electronically transmit a prescription, if necessary, or advise you regarding home care measures to help you or your child get over those tummy troubles.
During allergy season, in particular, you may find yourself wondering if your nasal symptoms are allergies, a cold, the flu, a sinus infection (sinusitis), or even the coronavirus. To find out, you can book a telemedicine visit with your healthcare provider. He or she will lead you through a series of questions to determine the correct diagnosis. Then, your provider will likely recommend medication and self-care tips for whatever is ailing your nose and sinuses.
Sports Injuries: Sprains, Strains, Swelling
Athletic injuries represent some of the best telemedicine examples for using this technology. It can be hard to tell if your ankle is sprained or broken, for example, but a doctor on a video chat can guide you through an examination to determine if you only need to wrap, ice and elevate that foot—or if you should head to an urgent care for X-rays. Using telemedicine visits like this can save you time and money. Be aware, however, that your doctor likely cannot prescribe a narcotic pain reliever for that sprain. Current laws prohibit telemedicine doctors from prescribing controlled substances.
Urinary Tract Infection
Today, you no longer need to visit a doctor’s office for diagnosis of a urinary tract infection (UTI). For non-pregnant women without evidence of vaginitis (yeast infection), you can dial up a video-based telemedicine interaction and describe your symptoms to your healthcare provider, who will ask focused follow-up questions to assess your condition. If you likely have a UTI, your provider even can send a prescription to your pharmacy electronically after the video visit.
Telemedicine Is Not for Emergencies
Whenever a person experiences potentially life-threatening signs and symptoms, you should not rely on a telemedicine visit. Always call for emergency medical responders for:
- Anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction)
- Breathing problems
- Signs and symptoms of heart attack, including crushing chest pain coupled with shortness of breath
- Signs of stroke, such as one-sided weakness or facial drooping
- Suspected head injury of any kind
- Traumatic injuries due to a fall or accident
- Unexplained bleeding
Telehealth is good for many things, but emergency care is not one of them.