Joann Conlin Alan Michels Barbara Underwood

Dr. Alan Michels shows Joann Conlin and Barbara Underwood a room modeled after a hospital room for the University of Arizona College of Medicine - PHX Rural Health Clinic students. Telemedicine plays an integral part in the newly accredited curriculum so each room in the new clinic has a large touch screen. 

“The doctor will see you now.” This statement has a whole new meaning today. You may be miles away and not in the doctor’s office anymore.

Telemedicine has been around for more than 40 years. Why the change now? Since March, when the pandemic started, Medicare and many insurance companies temporarily extended payment for telemedicine so health care practitioners could serve patients without being physically present. This social distancing appeared a safer way to deliver care. Now, your insurance may cover a telemedicine visit as it did prior for an in-person office visit.

The American Academy of Family Physicians tells us that telemedicine is the practice of medicine using technology to deliver care at a distance, over a telecommunications infrastructure, between a patient at an originating site and a physician or other practitioner licensed to practice medicine at a distance site.

A telemedicine appointment is just like a regular appointment. You will first be instructed to access the medical practitioner’s internet site. Then you will sit in front of your computer with a webcam, tablet or smartphone where you will see yourself and your health care provider on the screen once your session begins. These appointments are also called virtual visits. The visit can also be completed by phone. Your health care practitioner will ask you questions and work with you to develop a plan of care, providing the same quality of care you would get in an in-person visit.

It may also cover visits for other practitioners as mental health, clinical psychologists and social workers, speech pathologists, physical and occupational therapists.

This past year I have had several virtual medical visits. Some worked out perfectly, with a fruitful visit with the doctor, others not so well. If the medical office was clear in their directions and sent the correct information of how to access their site, it went smoothly. Other times there was a mixup between a requested virtual visit and an in office visit. At a different office, one staff member thought the other staff member gave me the information and I waited to connect with no result. So, I’ve learned to ask more questions and make sure the staff has sent the correct information to connect correctly. For example, “This will be a virtual visit, not an in-office visit, right?” “When will you send me an email with the log-on information?” These simple questions may prevent mistakes.

Here in Rim Country, the ability to access care through telemedicine varies. Some doctors now have phone visits and a few offices, like Banner, have telemedicine visits. Payson Christian Clinic is using telemedicine for more visits these days as well. Others say they are working on increasing this capability.

In a December 2020 letter to Congress, The American Telemedicine Association along with other groups have requested that the temporary telemedicine flexibilities that are in place due to COVID-19 be extended until the end of 2021 as they work for permanent reform to improve patient choice.

When you have a practitioner in another city, or prefer to be safe and have a doctor’s visit from home, you now have a choice — telemedicine.

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