Before the COVID-19 epidemic, telemedicine (also called telehealth, digital medicine or digital health) was a revolutionary concept that was not used all that much in practice. Of course, everything has changed. The ability to visit with a healthcare provider virtually not only saves time and money, but it could also save lives by reducing your exposure to medical facilities—and reducing providers’ exposure to you.
For that reason, both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are advocating the increased use of telemedicine appointments. And the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Medical Association have released updated guidelines for telemedicine visits.
But telemedicine is still new and unfamiliar to most of us. Here’s what you should expect when scheduling a telemedicine appointment.
Getting the technology ready
You should be able to use your laptop, tablet or smartphone for the appointment. Ensure that you have a reliable internet or cellular connection, and make sure the device is charged or plugged in. Videoconferencing requires a lot of bandwidth, so close all unused programs or apps before the appointment. Make sure you download the app your provider will be using in advance, and read the instructions about how to use it. If you’re using a tablet or smartphone, it’s a good idea to find a way to prop up the device so you’ll be clearly in the camera’s frame without having to hold it for the whole appointment. If you’ve never used your laptop’s webcam before, here are some instructions for identifying and testing it.
Getting yourself ready
A virtual healthcare appointment is similar to an in-person one, but the provider will not be able to touch your body, take your vital signs, or listen to your heart and lungs. That’s why it’s important to be prepared before the visit. Make a list of your symptoms, noting when they started and how severe they are. Write down any medications you are taking, and note any chronic conditions you have. If you have the tools, take and record your own temperature, blood pressure and other vital signs. Find a quiet spot with good lighting so you can be seen and heard clearly. While on the videoconference, answer the provider’s questions as clearly and directly as possible, staying on topic. Have a pen and paper ready to take notes on the provider’s recommendations or to jot down questions.
Checking your insurance coverage
Before COVID-19, coverage of telemedicine visits was hit and miss, with more than half of states requiring private insurers to cover them. But Medicare and some other insurance carriers have temporarily expanded their coverage in light of the declared coronavirus public health emergency. You may have to call your insurance company to ensure your visit will be covered.
What about privacy?
HIPAA privacy rules are still in effect for the information you share in your telemedicine visit. The audiovisual technologies used for these appointments (such as Skype), however, have security vulnerabilities and might not normally be HIPAA-compliant. Because of the COVID-19 emergency, the Office of Civil Rights, which is the branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that enforces HIPAA, recently issued a statement saying it will not take enforcement action against any telemedicine provider as long as the service is done in good faith, with no intent to breach a patient’s privacy. The statement also stresses that social media apps such as Facebook Live, TikTok and Twitch are not appropriate for telemedicine.
The pandemic has changed life as we know it, but we’re here to help you navigate what these changes mean for your healthcare benefits. Keep reading our blog to learn about the CARES Act.
The information in this blog post is for educational purposes only. It is not legal or tax advice. For legal or tax advice, you should consult your own counsel.