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May 24, 2022

Telemedicine vs. in-person health visits — is there a difference in care?

Adult Health Telemedicine

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, the popularity of telemedicine soared as society temporarily shifted away from in-person health visits to reduce the spread of the highly infectious disease. Now that vaccines and boosters are widely available, you may be wondering if there’s a difference in the care provided during a telemedicine appointment versus an in-office visit. The answer? It depends on the situation. Here’s what you should know:

How telemedicine works

Telemedicine allows you to talk with your doctor on the phone or by video using a smartphone, tablet, or internet-connected device. During a typical telehealth session, doctors can perform a visual exam, conduct routine screenings, and provide preventive health care advice. Some doctors may even be able to order a prescription during a virtual health visit.

Making a telemedicine appointment is as easy as contacting your doctor’s office, downloading an app, and logging in at the scheduled time. The health care provider on the other end of the call will conduct the visit and offer instructions and treatment. When it comes to cost, many insurance plans cover telemedicine visits the same as those happening in an office.

What telemedicine is good for

Telemedicine offers a wider variety of care options and allows for more immediate communication than relying exclusively on in-person visits. Wellness visits, mental health appointments, dermatology exams, eye exams, and consultations on many urgent care conditions (such as rashes or infections) are all well-suited for telemedicine.

Drawbacks of telemedicine

The biggest drawback to telemedicine is the need for technology. Those without access to a video camera or smartphone may not have the same care options if they don’t visit a doctor in-person. Other ailments may require lab testing or a physical exam to diagnose — especially in emergencies. It’s also possible that you may not see your usual provider, which means trading familiarity for convenience. You and your primary care physician can decide in which instances the benefits of telemedicine outweigh any drawbacks.

In many cases, telemedicine offers a convenient alternative to an in-person visit with little to no difference in the care you receive. But for certain health concerns, it’s still best to make the trip to the office to see a doctor in person. These two approaches to care are different, but each has its place and can be effective if you know when to use it.

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