Telemedicine emerges as care option during COVID-19 outbreak
Mae 22: Got a worrisome rash? You can still see a doctor if you can't leave home during the coronavirus outbreak.
US public health officials, hospitals and insurance companies are pushing people to try telemedicine for their allergies, earaches and other minor problems and skip the doctor's office or clinic.
It's also a way to check in with a doctor if you think you have symptoms of COVID-19.
The goal: Prevent the spread of coronavirus, especially to those who are most vulnerable, older people and those with existing health conditions.
Virtual care has long been touted as a way to get help quickly instead of waiting days to see a doctor, yet Americans have been slow to embrace it. There are signs that may be changing because of COVID-19.
Here's a closer look at how telemedicine works.
Got a smartphone, tablet or computer? That's all you really need to use telemedicine, sometimes called telehealth or virtual visits.
Generally, it just refers to a video visit with a remotely located care provider like a doctor or therapist over a secure connection. The patient uses a website link or an app to connect.
Some telemedicine outlets also offer a version using text messages between a doctor and patient who may not actually speak to or see each other.
Telemedicine often involves diagnosing and treating a new health problem but is also used to keep tabs on an existing, long-term conditions like diabetes. It's more than calling to get a prescription refill, although doctors can write some prescriptions, like antibiotics, after a telemedicine visit.
Insurers and hospital systems are frequent sources. In fact, your email inbox may have an offer from one of those providers urging you to try it now because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The federal government last week said it will immediately expand telemedicine access to help people with Medicare, its coverage program for those 65 and over as well as younger patients who qualify because of a disability. And it urged states to expand the service to those enrolled in Medicaid, the government coverage program for people with low incomes.
Medicare coverage of telemedicine had been limited, largely to rural areas where patients had to go to specially-designated sites for their visits. Many Medicare Advantage plans run by insurers also provide access to telemedicine.
Prices vary. But many insurance companies and other providers are temporarily waiving fees to push more people to use some virtual care.
Check before your visit with the insurer or employer that provides your coverage. The plan may not cover some specialty care like virtual therapy sessions or it may offer limited coverage.
What if you don't have insurance? You can pay out-of-pocket through some telemedicine providers. MDLive treats mostly through video chats and charges $75 for an urgent care visit. A session with a dermatologist costs $69.
Another company, 98point6, charges a $20 annual fee and then $1 for each visit. The company diagnoses and treats through secure text messaging. -AP