What is virtual care?

Virtual Care
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Virtual care: Overview

For some health problems, a phone call or video call with a doctor or nurse can save you time and money. This is called virtual care. It may also be called telemedicine or telehealth. Many hospitals and clinics offer virtual care as another way for you to see a doctor.

You will use a computer, phone, or other device to talk to a doctor or nurse. You may have a live video connection. This may be done from a doctor's office so you can talk to a provider who is somewhere else. Or you may be able to connect from your home.

The doctor or nurse can ask you questions. They may be able to check your blood pressure, pulse, and other body functions through special tools connected to your computer or smartphone. Your doctor may also be able to do a virtual physical exam.

What are the risks of virtual care?

Virtual care may use new technology for your doctor's appointment. That means there's a chance that it won't connect. And there are some things the health care provider can only do in person. You may still need to go to the office for follow-up.

How to use telehealth counseling

It can be hard to find time for in-person mental health care. Luckily, online video counseling, or teletherapy, can help people get the support they need.

Teletherapy has lots of benefits. Scheduling may be more flexible, so you can choose times that work best for you. You don't have to travel to an office or spend time in a waiting room. You can use your own device in your own home, which may help you feel more comfortable. Some people find it easier to talk to a therapist on a screen than face-to-face.

If you're ready to give it a try, follow these steps to get started.

  1. Find a therapist.

    If you have insurance, check with your provider. The insurance website may have a list of therapists who are covered by your plan. Sometimes employers offer an employee assistance program (EAP) that may have free or reduced-cost counseling services. Check with your workplace to see if this is a benefit. If you plan to pay directly and are concerned about the cost of counseling, speak with the therapist before you meet. Ask about sliding-scale payment options.

    If you've seen a therapist before, ask if they offer teletherapy.

  2. Connect with the therapist.
    • Make your appointment. Try to choose a time when you'll be alone or won't be interrupted.
    • Arrange how you'll pay. If you have insurance, have your insurance card ready so they can check your coverage and copay.
    • Find out what you'll need to be successful. You might need to use a certain internet browser or download an app. You may need to provide an email address so you can get a link to join the session.
  3. Prepare ahead for success.

    A day or two before your session:

    • Choose the device you'll use. This might be a computer, a phone, or a tablet. To get more privacy, you might want to use headphones or earbuds and a mic.
    • Decide on a location. Choose a place that's private and quiet and has a good internet connection.
    • Think about the issues you want to discuss. It may help to make notes that you can use during your session.
  4. Get set, and start your appointment.

    A few minutes before your appointment:

    • Check your device. If it isn't fully charged, plug it in. Position the camera the way you want it. Check the audio and video settings.
    • Gather the things you'll need. Be sure that you have the link to get into your session. Have a pen and paper handy, as well as any notes you made.
    • Get comfortable. Close the door or do what you can to ensure your privacy. If others are at home, ask them not to disturb you.

    Sign into your session a few minutes early. Be ready to introduce yourself and provide some identifiers, like your name and address.

  5. Be patient with the process (and yourself).

    At its best, video conferencing is easy to use and works great. But glitches are pretty common. If the video doesn't work, you may be able to continue the appointment with a phone call.

    For lots of people, it takes time to find a therapist they connect with. If you have one or two sessions and don't find them helpful, don't give up on counseling. Try again with someone else. A different therapist may be a better fit for you.

Why is virtual care done?

Virtual care works great when you're a little sick or you're not sure if you really need to go to the doctor. For instance, you can use it if you have flu-like symptoms. Or you could use it if your child has a sore throat.

It also works well for managing some long-term health problems. And if you live far from a specialist, you can get regular follow-up care without having to go to the doctor's office every time.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.