Telemedicine Best Practices

With the global emergence and spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), options for practicing telemedicine, or communicating with your healthcare provider virtually, by phone, email, and/or video without physically entering your doctor’s office, have increased dramatically.

According to Medscape, “Through an emergency declaration made March 17, 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will pay providers to care for Medicare beneficiaries for office, hospital, and other visits furnished via telehealth anywhere in the country—not just rural areas—and including a patient’s place of residence. These services can also be provided in nursing homes, hospital outpatient departments, and other settings, and across state lines. This goes into effect retroactively to March 6, 2020, and will extend through the COVID-19 public health emergency.”1

What Is 'Telemedicine' and How Does It Differ from 'Telehealth'?

According to Douglas M. Hildrew, MD, Chair of the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) Telemedicine Committee and Assistant Professor of Surgery at the Yale School of Medicine, Division of Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, “On a very basic level, telemedicine involves using electronic communication strategies to provide clinical services and/or patient care remotely.

“This can be done by way of various mechanisms like voice, video, or even traditional static frame photography. The patient and the physician are not under the same roof and are using some type of electronic communication in order to achieve patient healthcare. The term telehealth, however, is really a larger umbrella term that includes a broader scope of services.”2

What Type of Technology Do I Need for Telemedicine?

There are many types of technologies available for initiating a telemedicine encounter with your healthcare provider and you should first check with them to see what, if any, specific technologies their practice supports. While the AAO-HNS does not endorse any particular electronic communication vendor, Dr. Hildrew suggests that patients investigate options such as Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger (not Facebook Live, which is a public-facing platform), Google Hangouts video, Skype, or Zoom for Healthcare to see what is most comfortable for them.

Again, any open, public-facing platforms should not be used for communicating with your healthcare provider.

How Should I Prepare for a Telemedicine Visit?

If you need to schedule a telemedicine visit with your healthcare provider, you need to contact them first to see what availability they have as well as what type of technology they use. It is also very important that you make sure you will be somewhere with either a strong cell phone or Wi-Fi signal throughout the encounter. Some additional, basic tips to follow before your first virtual visit include:

  1. Make sure you have an up-to-date list of all medications that you or your loved one take.
  2. Be ready to share information about any pre-existing medical conditions.
  3. Write down all symptoms that you may be experiencing. How long have you been experiencing them, and with what frequency? Are they new symptoms, or have you had them before?
  4. Take a picture to share with your provider if you have visual signs of a possible medical condition such as swelling, a lump, bruise, wound, or lesion.
  5. Be direct but succinct when speaking with your provider as many practices may be overwhelmed and understaffed while caring for a growing number of unsettled patients.

Please note: If you are experiencing the sudden onslaught of symptoms such as chest pain, weakness in one side of the face or body, a severe, sharp headache, or great difficulty breathing you should call 911 immediately.

You can learn more about COVID-19 and steps you can take to stay safe here.

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The information on is provided solely for educational purposes and does not represent medical advice, nor is it a substitute for seeking professional medical care.