Telemedicine sometimes means video calls and nothing else, while telehealth can encompass a huge variety of medical communications, like a doctor sending an x-ray to a faraway specialist to interpret. Today, we’re using telemedicine to mean ways that you can replace a visit to your doctor with a phone or video call, and we’re looking at a few of the biggest, most popular services available to the most people.
The average telemedicine visit costs $40 to $60, according to a report in SeekingAlpha. That fee may be covered by your insurance plan, but more often you pay it out of pocket, with a credit card, before the visit begins. Since it’s a healthcare expense, you can use Health Savings Account funds, and the fee can count toward your deductible. MeMD, which charges $49.95 per visit, notes that they chose the price to be lower than many health insurance plans’ co-pays.
Roughly half of large employers included telemedicine visits in the insurance plans they offered employees in 2015, according to a Willis Towers Watson/National Business Group on Health report. A third of those offered lower copays or charges for remote visits than their in-person counterparts.
Currently, 28 states have laws stating that insurance should cover telemedicine visits in the same way they cover an equivalent face-to-face visit with your provider. In other states, your coverage might be different. Check with your insurer to see if video or phone visits are covered.
The doctor on the other end of the line needs to be licensed to practice medicine in your state, so your location matters to the service. iCliniq bills itself as a service for travelers, but that’s because they have doctors in 13 countries.
All 50 states allow doctors to practice medicine through video calls, although the details of state laws can vary. For example, some only allow videoconferencing but not phone-based treatment, so in those states you will need to use a device with a camera.
First, some common sense: don’t fire up a telemedicine app in an emergency. Call 911 instead. You should also head to a real health facility for anything serious enough to require immediate treatment, or for a hands-on physical exam.
These services are perfect when what you need is either a drug prescription or advice on how to take care of yourself at home. For example, if you think you may have a cold or flu, Teladoc says they’re happy to see you if your symptoms are cough, congestion, sore throat, or a mild fever, under 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. But if you have a high fever or severe vomiting and diarrhea, you’re probably going to need to see someone in person.
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