Virtual healthcare, also known as telemedicine, has become increasingly prevalent in recent years as more and more organizations are recognizing the need to offer their employees better access to health and wellness services. But although telemedicine is not new, there remains some confusion about what conditions can be treated safely without an in-person visit.
What can be treated virtually?
New and known health conditions that do not require a physical assessment can safely be treated in a virtual setting. These encompass a wide range of conditions. A few examples include minor or known headaches, painless eye issues, asymptomatic sexual health issues, minor cuts or bites, thyroid issues, and common mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
In these cases, the assessment and follow-ups can be carried out via telemedicine. The healthcare practitioner can also prescribe medication or leaves of absence, order tests and exams, and provide referrals without the need for an in-person appointment.
Virtual care is also a safe option for follow-ups with patients with controlled and stable conditions that required a physical examination for diagnosis but not for monitoring. During these virtual follow-ups, the practitioner can assess the patient and renew and adjust their prescriptions.
What shouldn’t be treated virtually?
Needless to say, patients requiring emergency care will need to go to the hospital. Generally, any condition that is unstable and necessitates the quick coordination of health services or invasive procedures cannot be treated through virtual care.
Additionally, if a physical assessment is deemed necessary for diagnosis and treatment, the patient should be seen in person. The healthcare practitioner may order radiology scans and lab tests as well, but these are only part the diagnostic process, not substitutes for a physical exam. Likewise, any follow-ups involving physical assessments should be carried out by the prescribing practitioner.
Patients who experience barriers to communication in a virtual care setting—such as a hearing impairment, intellectual disability, or psychosis—may also benefit from an evaluation in person.
In some cases, regulations require an in-person appointment, such as when the practitioner is prescribing controlled substances.
What should happen when a patient can’t be treated virtually?
Ideally, your virtual care provider will help the patient find the appropriate in-person resources to treat their condition. This means helping the patient navigate the healthcare system by finding clinics or hospitals offering the services they need and by notifying the patient of expected wait times.
When applicable, the provider should also make sure the patient is aware of their options for receiving treatment (for example, the patient may be in a position to choose between seeing a physician, nurse practitioner, or physiologist).
The patient should also receive a timeline from the virtual care provider detailing when, where, how, and with whom to seek care, as well as what signs and symptoms to watch for that could change the timeline.
Finally, a good telemedicine provider will also offer the patient reassurance and the option to discuss their condition with a nurse or mental health specialist if they wish to do so.
When choosing a virtual care program for your organization, it’s important to be aware that there are standards providers must adhere to, as not every condition can be safely treated through telemedicine. At Dialogue, our large multidisciplinary team can treat a broad scope of issues, all while respecting established guidelines that safeguard the health and well-being of our plan members.