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What to know about telemedicine

Telehealth and telemedicine are garnering increasing attention as high-tech avenues through which to deliver care at a distance.

The American Academy of Family Physicians supports both and clarifies the two terms: “Telehealth is different from telemedicine in that it refers to a broader scope of remote health care services than telemedicine. Telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, while telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services.”

The Washington, D.C.-based Robert Graham Center reported, citing research published last March in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, that Americans experiencing geographical or time constraint challenges, for example, may increasingly pursue health care access through a Wi-Fi/internet-connected device instead of, or in addition to, seeking primary, in-person care and consultations with a medical professional. Thus, more options are becoming available.

In light of COVID-19′s fluctuating medical landscape, informed March 5, “Telemedicine can be useful to evaluate and reassure patients in alternative settings, and also can be used to help patients decide who needs to be seen in the hospital or an alternative setting like an urgent care.”

Besides its practicality for immediate health needs, visual technology is being tried and tested in other medical realms. Dr. Shafali Jeste, a director at the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment, has been part of a federally funded study that uses telemedicine to remotely help families of children with tuberous sclerosis learn skills that let them work at home with their children to gain essential social skills. Every week, access to early intervention is impossible for people in some rural areas, but telemedicine will “expand our reach,” said Jeste.

Telehealth/telemedicine is becoming more of a reality. Insurance and health care companies, as well as Congress, have been evaluating factors surrounding costs, coverage and effectiveness. In fact, on March 4, Congress included as part of its COVID-19 supplemental funding package a provision that waives some restrictions for Medicare telehealth coverage.

To find out whether your physician offers telemedicine, call their office. Ask what equipment is needed — for example, do you need to download an app or use a device with a video camera? — and what costs are associated with it.

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