As the global community grapples with the devastating impact of the novel coronavirus and physical distancing becomes a public health imperative, many individuals are leveraging online platforms. This surge in online engagement extends beyond the realms of social networks and gaming to the utilization of digital health services.
Two prominent digital health services gaining traction amidst the pandemic lockdowns are telemedicine and online therapy. While these platforms have existed for years, they’ve witnessed a considerable rise in usage due to the current need for people to stay at home.
Is it worthwhile to explore telemedicine or online therapy right now? Absolutely.
Both telemedicine and online therapy adhere to the same basic concept – they deliver services via the internet that would otherwise be provided in person.
Users generally sign up for these services through a private provider or via an offering from their health insurance company (which usually involves a separate registration process). After scheduling a session with a healthcare provider, such as a doctor or therapist, the session is conducted via video, phone, or messaging.
Telemedicine platforms require users to fill out a medical history form, often achievable over the phone for convenience. After this process, users can schedule a call-back time with a doctor, frequently available on the same day for urgent concerns.
Accessing your own primary care physician through these platforms may entail a longer waiting time compared to commercial services, which benefit from an extensive network of physicians nationwide. Your regular physician may already have a substantial patient load, especially during this pandemic.
Telemedicine services typically rely on videoconference calls akin to FaceTime. Users have the option to opt-out of video calls if they prefer a traditional phone call.
Pricing for standalone telemedicine services can vary significantly. If you’re consulting your primary care physician, a co-pay similar to in-person visits is usually required. Independent telemedicine providers like American Well, PlushCare, DoctoronDemand, or Teladoc, charge anywhere from $75 to $300 for an initial consultation that lasts between 20 to 45 minutes.
Online doctors can prescribe medications in the same way your regular doctor does. Hence, if you’re running out of a prescription and can’t reach your usual doctor, an online service can be a useful emergency option.
Online therapy platforms require an intake process like telemedicine services. Users answer questions about their history and reasons for seeking therapy, helping the therapists understand their mental health status.
Platforms like BetterHelp and Talkspace offer various communication methods with therapists, such as video calls and secure messaging through their apps or websites.
Therapists affiliated with these platforms are credentialed and verified. The digital nature of these services can often facilitate access to specialized therapists that may not be available in one’s local community.
Pros & Cons
In times of physical distancing and avoidance of medical facilities, using digital health services like telemedicine or online therapy is beneficial. Users can access these services from the safety and comfort of their homes, minimizing the risk of coronavirus exposure.
These platforms offer several communication methods. In addition to video conferencing, users can leave secure notes or messages for their providers, which can be helpful in discussing sensitive or embarrassing issues that may be challenging to discuss in person.
In general, it’s easier to reach a provider through an online service than to schedule a phone call with your regular doctor or therapist. This easy access can be crucial for those who need immediate assistance.
Online services can sometimes be more cost-effective compared to their in-person counterparts, depending on the specific service and individual health insurance plans.
Privacy concerns can deter some people from using online services. Many of these platforms utilize browser cookies for advertising and social networking, which track user behavior across websites and contribute to psychographic profiles used by advertisers and marketers.
Moreover, while medical records are typically de-identified, they can potentially be re-identified through AI technology and legal methods. This could pose a significant concern for those in security-sensitive professions or who are particularly privacy-conscious.
Health insurance coverage varies across services, potentially leading to out-of-pocket payments that may be pricier than in-network, in-person services. It’s essential to check with your health insurance provider to confirm coverage for the service you’re considering.
Refund policies differ across the industry, and there’s no guarantee that the digital health service you choose will address your concerns effectively. It’s advisable to understand the service’s refund terms and complaint process.
Considering the current situation, it’s an opportune time to explore telemedicine and online therapy. These are well-established technologies that millions globally have benefited from for many years. Research indicates that interventions conducted through these platforms are as effective as in-person sessions. If the current pandemic has confined you to your home, consider reaching out to one of these services today.