Blog/A Patient's Guide to Telehealth
5/1/2023 | 4 min read

A Patient's Guide to Telehealth

What you should know before your first visit

A woman sitting on her sofa holding a tablet that shows a male doctor virtually chatting with her.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard the terms “telehealth” or “telemedicine” quite a bit. You may still be wondering how you can successfully incorporate them into your own healthcare journey or even how to pick the right provider for your unique needs though. 

Well, you’re in luck! This guide will answer those questions and more to get you prepared and excited for your own future virtual visits. 

What’s the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?

Telehealth and telemedicine are often used interchangeably in virtual care, however, they refer to two different things. Telehealth encompasses telemedicine and all other remote healthcare services such as health education, medical provider training and administrative discussions. Telemedicine is the actual use of virtual care technology for healthcare providers to communicate with and treat patients in real or delayed time.

The main difference between the two is that telemedicine refers specifically to the exchange of information between patient and provider.

Synchronous vs Asynchronous Telemedicine

There are two ways in which a telemedicine visit can take place, synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous telemedicine is when a patient interacts with their provider live, in real-time. This can be done via video call, phone call or even live chat messaging. Asynchronous telemedicine, also known as store-and-forward, is when the patient sends the provider information to be viewed and responded back to at a later time. With async care, there’s always a delay in information exchanged.

Why is telemedicine usage booming?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine has grown exponentially in popularity. Its affordability and convenience allows for increased access to quality healthcare for patients seeking both common, day-to-day treatment and specialty care. It has also opened the door to patients living in rural or marginalized communities, increasing their access to providers and specialists that were not previously easily available.

Just in the last year, many states have begun implementing laws to promote and protect telemedicine as more Americans take up remote visits with their healthcare providers over in-person appointments. According to the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) about 1 in 10 Americans use telemedicine.

Why is telemedicine trumping in-person visits? 

Though in-person office visits may be necessary for certain types of treatment or at different points in a patient’s health care journey, there are many benefits to virtual care for a large number of use cases.

  • Lower cost, more affordable options

  • Shortened response times with less waiting

  • Reduced exposure to illness 

  • Decreased travel or time off work

  • Increased access to specialists

  • Oftentimes, same-day treatment or prescriptions

As mentioned above, telemedicine is not a perfect fit for everyone or every medical condition. Be sure to discuss the advantages and disadvantages with your healthcare provider.  

How does a telemedicine visit work?

A virtual visit is very similar to an in-person visit except you and the healthcare provider are communicating, well, virtually! It is great for non-emergency situations such as follow-ups, routine care for chronic conditions and minor ailments. All you need is a strong internet connection, an electronic device and (for real-time video visits) a camera! You can talk to a provider using your phone, iPad, laptop or computer from the comfort of your own home, in the car or even at work. 

If you've never done a virtual visit before, here's what you can expect from most platforms:

Step 1: 

Select the service you want to use. This can be primary care, urgent care, specialty care or even a request for prescription refills.

Step 2:

Pick a payment method. Some platforms have cash-pay only but many others accept insurance as well. If you’re not sure if your insurance covers telemedicine, you can contact your insurance provider for confirmation.

Step 3:

Choose your location. In order to be scheduled with a licensed provider in your state, you will need proof of residency.

Step 4:

Create a profile on their HIPAA compliant platform. Here you will input your current medical concerns and medical history for your provider to review. 

Step 5:

Book an appointment. Quickly schedule a visit on the secure platform. This will likely also be used for any follow-up communications between you and the provider. 

What services are commonly offered?

Patients and providers are not the only ones seeing the potential of telehealth. Many specialized services have progressively worked to adopt virtual care technology into their practice. Patients today have access to virtual care for many conditions including:

  • Acne 

  • Allergies

  • COVID-19 Mental and behavioral health

  • Sexual health 

  • Skin conditions

  • Prescription renewals

  • Women+ and Men+ health

  • Weight management

  • Hair loss

  • Anti-aging

Preparing for your virtual visit 

To ensure that everything runs smoothly and you get the most out of your visit, here are a few things you can do in preparation. 

Find the right location

You’ll want to be in a quiet, private place where you are comfortable and won’t be interrupted. If using the video feature, you will want the area to be well-lit. This way your provider can see you clearly, especially if you need to show them something. 

Try the technology ahead of time

If this is your first virtual visit, you will want to be comfortable with the technology being used. You can test it out on your mobile device or laptop to get familiar. If you do find that you are having issues, reach out to your provider to get things worked out beforehand. (They want it to work too!)

Be prepared

Write down any symptoms or medications you’ve taken. Then create a list of questions or concerns that you have for your provider. This way you don’t forget and can get the answers you are looking for. 

Take notes

Have paper and a writing utensil on hand. You may need to jot down information, next steps or questions for your provider. At the end of your visit you can go over any concerns and next steps you’ve gathered from the discussion. It’s always helpful to recap!

What to do after your visit

At the end of your visit, your provider will inform you of any additional tests that need to be done. This will be arranged for you at a nearby lab, clinic or even sent directly to your home. They’ll also let you know if they prescribe any medications or care plans.

Follow-up meetings can be discussed with the provider or their office. In some cases, they may ask for you to be seen in person. As noted before, some conditions may require additional resources. 

As the healthcare system continues to incorporate virtual communications and technology, you can look forward to more convenient options in maintaining your health. 

How can Agile deliver virtual care directly to you?

At Agile, we believe everyone should have access to excellent healthcare, regardless of where you are or when you need it. We offer convenient virtual care across the U.S. for your most common, day-to-day medical conditions. Our providers will focus on your unique concerns to deliver effective, personalized and discrete treatment in a timely manner. We’re here to get you back to your best as fast as possible.

Explore our complete list of rapid, cost-effective treatments now.