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The New House Call: Telemedicine in Turbulent Times

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Virtual medicine visits with your healthcare practitioner via your computer or phone are part of the new normal, and that’s a good thing! Even before the stay at home orders began, seeing a healthcare practitioner via your device of choice was gaining popularity. Then the pandemic kicked telemedicine into the mainstream, practically overnight.  Chances are, you or somebody in your family has already tried it.  I have been pleasantly surprised at how well it has been working for me and my patients.  It will never replace the sacred in-person office visit, but it has definite advantages.

According to a 2019 survey by Massachusetts General Hospital, 79% of respondents perceived telemedicine as more convenient in terms of scheduling, 83% felt that the care was as good or better than an in-person visit, and 66% felt personally connected to their telehealth practitioner. In a 2018 poll by the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, nearly 9 in 10 Americans over 40 said they would be comfortable using at least one type of telemedicine for themselves or a loved one. They were just as comfortable using this new technology as those aged 18-39, debunking the claim that older folks are daunted by adapting to this new technology.  In fact, in 2019, Americans aged 51-60 submitted the most insurance claims for telehealth as any 10-year age group.

If you have health insurance, it will now cover your telemedicine visit. Copays are usually the same as an office visit.  Often times, a virtual visit is quicker and more to the point, which can save you time and money whether you’re paying out of pocket or using insurance. This also helps the practitioner keep to their schedule, so wait times are shorter. And, let’s face it, even before COVID-19, nobody liked sitting in a crowded waiting room with a bunch of sick people. For the time being, you can even establish care with a new doctor over the internet or phone. Urgent care clinics are doing telemedicine for some issues now, too.  Call ahead and see what’s available.

Telemedicine eliminates travel costs and the long drives many of us in rural Southern Oregon have had to endure to access healthcare. This is especially helpful for those with kids, people with mobility issues and those who rely on public transportation to get to appointments. As an added plus, you can do the visit from any private location, reducing the need to cancel if something unexpected comes up.

Being home during the visit, where your medications and supplements are, is handy for a virtual show and tell to verify what you are actually taking and see if you need refills. You don’t always need to make another trip to a pharmacy or wait at the front desk to get your supplements after the visit anymore. Telemedicine has streamlined arranging medication refills or vitamins and herbs to be mailed directly to you after the visit.

Many people prefer being able to speak to their doctor or counselor from the comfort and privacy of their own home.  Sometimes it’s awkward leaving the treatment room and having to check out at the front desk while feeling vulnerable after sharing something emotional or getting worrisome test results. Telemedicine solves this problem.

On the subject of privacy, it is best to plan ahead to make sure the kids, pets and spouse don”t interrupt you during your virtual appointment.  Being able to have the visit in a quiet room to yourself with the door closed is ideal.

The future holds a lot of uncertainty, but it is certain that many aspects of healthcare have moved online to stay. You don’t need to postpone seeing your doctor because of the pandemic.  I encourage you to try a telemedicine visit next time you need health care advice.

Dr. Margaret Philhower is a naturopathic doctor with a family medicine clinic in Takilma, next door to The Dome School, andat The Bear Creek Naturopathic Medical Clinic located at 2612 E. Barnett Rd. in Medford. You can schedule an appointment in Medford by calling 541-770-5563 or in Takilma by calling 541-415-1549 or visiting www.drmargaret.org.

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