Medically reviewed on January 26, 2023 by Morgan Spicer, Medical Communications Manager. 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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Whether it’s because you’ve got a busy schedule or because you’re more comfortable at home, there are times when you may have considered a telehealth or virtual care visit with a healthcare provider instead of going into the clinic.
If you’ve never chosen to use a telehealth or virtual care service, however, you may be wondering if they’re as reliable as a standard visit with your usual healthcare provider. Read on to see where we’ve outlined the benefits–and drawbacks–to both in-person and virtual healthcare.
Telehealth is an ever-broadening umbrella term for healthcare visits that can be accomplished across a distance. This includes a variety of methods that your healthcare provider may use to provide healthcare communication or treatment to you, and can be accomplished through :
The many forms of available telehealth lend themselves to a number of conveniences that may not be as common in traditional, in-person healthcare. For instance, you may find that you need to take time off work to speak to your healthcare provider, even if the issues are minor. One advantage of many forms of telemedicine is a set of expanded hours, so you may be able to receive care outside the standard 9-5 window.
Another benefit to telehealth services is the convenience overall. In addition to flexible scheduling, you may find it easier to receive care in your own home, or anywhere else you are more comfortable. For those who have any reason to avoid the traditional doctor’s office, such as a compromised immune system or general anxiety about clinic settings, this can provide relief . Furthermore, for those who live quite a distance from their primary care provider, telehealth offerings can help reduce the travel time and transportation cost burdens–this is especially helpful in rural areas where the distances traveled to receive care can be lengthy.
Another important benefit to discuss about virtual healthcare is that, oftentimes, getting ready and traveling are some of the last things you want to do when you are facing a mild or routine set of symptoms, such as cold or flu. Receiving care in the comfort of your favorite pajamas just hours after you notice symptoms can serve as a bright spot in an otherwise crummy sick day.
The good news about telehealth is that the kinds of providers you see are usually the same kinds you would see in the doctor’s office. Depending on what sort of symptoms you’re having, or what kind of appointment you book, you may receive care from registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians, physician assistants, or even specialists! Most entities that offer telehealth services let you know which kind of provider you’ll be seeing beforehand, and, just like with in-person care, you’re often able to pick the specific clinician you’d like to see.
Many conditions or sets of symptoms are easily diagnosable and/or treatable via telehealth. Some medical scenarios which are commonly addressed include :
Each telehealth offering will be specific to the organization and healthcare professional that are offering the service. Bear in mind, for example, that a telehealth offering designed for urgent care and flu symptoms may not also offer therapy.
While there are many benefits to the telemedicine approach, the fact remains that you, as the patient, are not physically present. This inherently causes some limitations in the information that your healthcare provider can use to provide you with care. Your blood pressure cannot be measured, nor can your provider take a closer look at your eyes, ears, nose, or other parts of your body that may have prompted the need for an appointment.
Furthermore, your healthcare provider is unable to run tests in a virtual environment–some procedures, such as X-rays, blood draws, and even detailed physical examinations (such as a thorough dermatological exam), are simply not possible without your physical presence.
Another potential drawback of telehealth is that, while some services may offer a very quick and easy appointment, it may be with an entirely new provider. For people who have a long-term established primary care provider, this lack of an existing patient-provider relationship can be daunting.
Technology access is another often-overlooked challenge with telehealth. Most appointments require access to the Internet, as well as a phone, computer, or other device with which to connect to your provider–and let’s not forget that not everyone is well-versed in technology .
So, is virtual care as good as in-person care? The short answer is: it depends. Virtual care offers flexible scheduling, nonexistent travel time, and the comfort of being able to “come as you are” to your appointment without any fear of catching or spreading contagious conditions. The downsides are that not every condition is treatable by telehealth services, there can be technology barriers, and that you may not know the clinician from whom you are receiving care.
Both services offer a range of clinicians, and, just like with traditional healthcare, there are telehealth services to provide care to a number of different health concerns, from delivering test results to providing mental health treatment. It’s up to you to utilize the care you would most like to receive, and on which terms suit your particular needs best.