Insights

How Does Telemedicine Work?

Alyssa Corso24 Sep 2021

Telemedicine is a means of practicing medicine using technology, allowing patients to receive care without leaving their homes. Telemedicine is oftentimes used for basic care like dermatology, psychotherapy, colds, flu, sore throats, and more. The cost of telemedicine is often more affordable than traditional care, but not all illnesses can be diagnosed remotely.

While telemedicine can be convenient for certain situations, it does not replace in-person care. Urgent care can also be an affordable way to receive care, especially as a Mira member. Mira members get low-cost urgent care visits, affordable lab testing, and discounted prescriptions at up to 80% off. Sign up today and find an urgent care center near you.

How Telemedicine Works

Telemedicine allows you to communicate with your healthcare provider without physically going to an office. By doing this, you would communicate using real-time video-chat, text messaging, emailing, and video and phone calls. It’s a great way to diagnose common illnesses to get medicine, like antibiotics, to patients faster. 

While this is a great method to diagnose routine illnesses, less common illnesses still typically require a visit to a local facility. Physicians can’t diagnose many illnesses through technology because they may need to run some lab tests before knowing exactly what is ailing the patient. 

Different Types of Telemedicine

There are different types of telemedicine based on the care you need. Let’s take a look at each type of telemedicine to see what type of treatment each is right for: 

  • Interactive medicine: This is known as “live telemedicine,” where physicians and patients communicate in real-time, like video calls. This is what most people think of when they talk about telemedicine.
  • Remote patient monitoring: This provides Caregivers who monitor patients who use mobile medical equipment the ability to collect data on important stats such as blood pressure, blood sugar levels, or more.
  • Condition management: For patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes or migraines, your provider can monitor you and your symptoms remotely.
  • Store and forward: Providers can share a patient’s health information with other healthcare professionals or specialists when appropriate.

When to Use Telemedicine

Telemedicine is not to be used in any given medical situation, such as emergencies. Any medical needs that require immediate, hands-on care should be addressed in person. Telemedicine is beneficial for simple or non-immediate issues, as well as follow-up visits or after-care needs. 

Determining When to Use Telemedicine

This chart can help you determine when to use telemedicine and when to seek in-person care:

Medical ConcernCan use telemedicineSeek in-person care
Sore throat 
Infected wound 
Broken bone 
Deep wound 
Cold or flu symptoms 
Chest pain 

Advantages & Disadvantages of Telemedicine

While technology can be very beneficial when accessing healthcare, there are certain advantages and disadvantages of telemedicine. Even if you have a condition that works under normal telemedicine guidelines, you should probably evaluate these pros and cons before deciding. 

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Advantages of Telemedicine

The advantages of telemedicine for patients include: 

  • Telemedicine is a more affordable option when compared to in-person care
  • Telemedicine may allow for greater accessibility for those with mobility limitations or in rural areas
  • Participating in telemedicine can aid in reducing the spread of infectious diseases, such as COVID-19
  • Patients can access care from the comfort of their home, and providers can provide care with flexibility

Disadvantages of Telemedicine

The disadvantages of Telemedicine include: 

  • Not all healthcare concerns can be addressed using telemedicine. In-person care is necessary when a patient needs bloodwork, x-rays, and diagnoses that require a more hands-on approach.
  • Since medical and personal information is being exchanged electronically, security may be a concern.
  • Not all states require health insurance companies to cover telemedicine. Therefore, patients can face out-of-pocket costs.

How Much Telemedicine Costs

The average telemedicine visit costs about $79, while the average doctor’s visit costs between $300- $600. The average trip to the emergency room is nearly $2,000.

Factors that Influence the Cost of a Telemedicine Visit

Different factors influence the cost of a telemedicine visit, from the type of care you're receiving to the actual doctor you work with. The most important factors that you should keep in mind when looking at telemedicine include: 

  • Insurance coverage: The type of insurance you have will greatly influence the total cost of telemedicine because some plans have free or affordable access to telemedicine. In contrast, others don’t cover it all.
  • Your condition or symptoms: Your medical costs are always a little dependant on what you’re getting treated for.
  • The healthcare provider you’re seeing: Different providers charge different costs for their services. Some telemedicine providers are very affordable, even if you have to pay out-of-pocket costs.

Average Telemedicine Visit & Treatment Cost Based on Conditions

Below is a breakdown of the cost for a telemedicine visit based on the condition being treated:

ConditionCost
Acute Respiratory Infection$79
Birth control$32
Acne$61
Cold sore$21
Erectile disfunction$60
Hair loss$66

Telemedicine Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Below is a breakdown of the most popular, frequently asked questions that relate to telemedicine.

What’s the difference between telemedicine and telehealth?

Telemedicine allows you the freedom to receive treatment without needing to schedule an appointment with your physician or go to their office for medical services. Telehealth, however, is the direct utilization of electronic information and technological communication to support and promote remote clinical healthcare, patient and professional health education, public health, and health administration.

The main difference between the two is that telehealth is not a service. It instead allows improvement upon patient care and physician education. Telehealth expands beyond telemedicine to cover non-clinical events like appointment scheduling, continuing medical education, and physician training.

What are some common concerns that are treated using telemedicine?

Some common medical concerns* that are treated using telemedicine include:

  • Acne
  • Allergies
  • Arthritic Pain
  • Bronchitis
  • Certain therapies
  • Colds and Flu
  • Diarrhea
  • Pharyngitis
  • Mental health conditions
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Rashes
  • Respiratory Infections
  • Sinusitis
  • Skin Inflammations
  • Cellulitis
  • Sore Throats

*If you are experiencing a medical emergency, you should dial 911 and seek emergency care.

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Will my insurance cover a telemedicine visit?

Many health insurance plans will reimburse you for telemedicine visits. Twenty-six states have laws that require private insurers to reimburse healthcare providers for services delivered through telemedicine. If you are in a state that has not passed this law, your insurance may not cover telemedicine.  Medicaid may also offer reimbursement for telemedicine services as long as they meet all federal requirements and eligibility.

Can I get all my prescriptions through telemedicine?

Not all prescriptions can be accessed using telemedicine. There is a federal law called the Ryan Haight Act, which regulates prescriptions of controlled substances; controlled substances are medications that can cause physical and mental dependence and have restrictions on how they can be filled and refilled. They are regulated and classified by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) based on how likely they are to cause dependence. 

Under this law, doctors must see a patient in person before prescribing a controlled substance online. The patient’s circumstances need to meet one of seven exceptions specified in the law. This makes it very difficult for a doctor to prescribe a controlled substance via online consultation. Some telemedicine platforms even prohibit their doctors from prescribing controlled substances.

How do I know if my doctor offers telemedicine services?

According to Sarah Falcone, R.N. and Care Manager at My Virtual Physician

“The best way to know is to ask the doctor's office directly if they offer telemedicine visits. Another way to determine if telemedicine is available is to check online. If your doctor provides telemedicine services, it is good to find out what platform they use or how they use technology to perform the video conference. 

Users want to make sure the 2-way communication will be secure and also that it is easy to use. For example, will the doctor just FaceTime you from their office? Or is there a website that you have to log in to? If using your smartphone, do you have to download anything? These will all affect your experience if you are looking for telemedicine services.”

How to Get Affordable In-Person Medical Care

While telemedicine can be helpful in certain situations, it certainly does not fully replace in-person medical care. However, many patients find in-person care to be too expensive, especially while paying out-of-pocket. Here are some ways you can save money on medical costs when going to the doctor, urgent care, etc.:

Check the rates before you go

Oftentimes urgent care centers or doctor’s offices will include the self-pay rate on their website, or you can use different websites to check as well. This way, you know what you will have to pay before your visit.

Inquire about a self-pay discount 

Asking about a discounted self-pay rate is a great way to save on the out-of-pocket costs at urgent care or doctor’s office. Providers may not advertise this discount, which is why it’s important to ask yourself. They are also not required to provide one.

Bottom Line

Telemedicine can be convenient for many patients, especially if they are unable to access in-person medical care. Some common reasons to use telemedicine include live calls, patient monitoring, and condition management. However, telemedicine comes with limitations such as lack of access to certain prescription medications and cannot provide emergency and physical care or lab testing. 

This is why it’s important also to have access to in-person medical care. Mira offers an affordable solution for just $45 per month. A Mira membership covers urgent care visits, low-cost lab testing, and discounted prescriptions. You can create an account and start your coverage today!