Medically reviewed on February 24, 2023 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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At its core, telehealth is healthcare at a distance . Thanks to advances in connectivity and medical technology, healthcare providers can now provide efficient, personalized care to patients—regardless of where they are.
Whether you call it telehealth, telemedicine, or virtual care, receiving healthcare support without going into a clinic is becoming the new norm. In 2021, 37% of American adults used telehealth . That number is likely to increase as remote-first lifestyles grow in popularity.
However, if you’re among the nearly two-thirds of Americans who have never turned to telehealth, you may be wondering how telehealth visits work. That’s why we’ve put together this guide: to fill you in on the future of healthcare.
Asking “how does telehealth work?” is like asking “what does cake taste like?”—it’s not a specific enough question. That’s because there are a few different “flavors” of telehealth , each with its own set of advantages, drawbacks, and use cases.
Many healthcare providers will use a combination of the following three subtypes of telemedicine, but it’s still worth understanding how each variety works on its own. It’s also important to learn how to prepare for a telehealth appointment before your consultation. With that in mind, let’s dive deeper into how the different types of telehealth work.
Perhaps the best-known kind of telehealth, the live conversation most closely resembles the traditional healthcare visit. In a live conversation during a telemedicine visit, you speak to a healthcare provider in real-time, just as you would if you went into their office .
But with a telehealth conversation, there’s no need to travel—you can ask questions and receive advice over the phone. As such, all you need to access high-quality healthcare through a telehealth visit is reliable phone service.
Alternatively, you can speak with a virtual healthcare provider using a familiar video chat program like :
If you go the video route for your telemedicine visit, you’ll need a device with a camera and a stable internet connection; your smartphone, tablet, or laptop should do the trick.
While you may be hesitant to schedule an over-the-phone appointment—after all, how can your provider see the issue?—remember that many examinations begin with routine questions that don’t warrant an in-person visit. Then, if your virtual healthcare provider does need to take a look, they may turn to the second type of telehealth visit.
With direct messaging, you use a secure online platform to exchange emails or short messages with a healthcare provider.3 Many direct messaging services are asynchronous, meaning that your provider may not communicate with you in real-time. Instead, they may respond to you a few times per day.
Of course, direct messaging doesn’t have to be asynchronous. Your healthcare provider may be able to chat with you in real-time, though you should still expect short delays between responses.
This type of telehealth is beneficial because you can send and receive files, including:
What’s more, messaging is more permanent. While a live conversation doesn’t leave any traces, a messaging system securely stores your chat history. If you ever need to refer to your communications, all you have to do is log in.
While this form of telehealth may not receive as much attention as the other solutions, it’s an equally important part of the telemedicine ecosystem.
In a nutshell, remote monitoring relies on internet-enabled devices that can relay information to your healthcare provider .
If you’ve ever worn a fitness tracking bracelet or smartwatch, you’ve engaged in a kind of remote monitoring. In practice, only you can access the data from your wearable fitness device. In theory, you could give your healthcare provider access to your results, and they could make recommendations from there. That’s the basis of remote monitoring.
This form of telehealth fills in the gaps left by the other two types. With remote monitoring, your healthcare provider can gather long-term health data and recognize patterns—without having you return to their office every week.
As technology improves, more and more devices will come with remote monitoring capabilities. Even now, numerous devices can connect to the internet, including :
Although the technology that makes telehealth possible may be novel, using it should feel familiar.
To have a live conversation with a healthcare provider, you’ll typically need to make a telehealth appointment. If your usual healthcare provider offers remote services, you may be able to book telehealth visits on their website. Alternatively, you can schedule an appointment for a virtual visit with a telehealth service. Live conversations are best for time-sensitive issues or more pressing concerns.
For direct messaging, you may not need an appointment for a virtual visit. Instead, you may be able to send a message at any time using an online portal, either through your usual healthcare provider or a telehealth service. Direct messaging is best for non-urgent questions.
As for remote monitoring, you probably won’t experience it without going through one of the first two types of telehealth. After an appointment, your healthcare provider may suggest you wear or use an internet-enabled device so they can monitor your health. Remote monitoring is typically best for chronic health concerns.
From convenience to cost-effectiveness, telehealth comes with countless benefits. While in-person care isn’t going anywhere, telemedicine represents the next step in the evolution of healthcare.
At Everlywell, we know a thing or two about progressive digital healthcare. That’s why we’re continuing our mission of making at-home wellness attainable by providing access to Virtual Care Visits.
When you book a telehealth video call through Everlywell, you can connect with licensed professionals to discuss your general health and wellness, weight management journey, sexual health, and more—all without leaving your home or office.
To see the benefits of telehealth for yourself, schedule your first visit today or read more about Virtual Care Visits.