Mobile phones with virtual care appointment screens for telehealth with Everlywell

What is telehealth?

Medically reviewed on October 25, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. 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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From fulfilling prescription refills to counseling headache management, telehealth—or virtual healthcare services—offers patients an affordable, accessible, and convenient healthcare option.

The term exploded on the scene at the onset of the pandemic when healthcare providers and their patients turned to telehealth to reduce the possibility of transmitting COVID-19. [1] But the practice originally dates back to the 1970s and ‘80s, when NASA began employing it to treat astronauts. [2] Fast forward to today, and it has become a huge aspect of healthcare—more than 57.2 million Medicare patients used telehealth in 2020 alone. [3]

In this post, we’ll uncover the specifics of telehealth, its primary purposes, and how it may elevate your wellness.

Telehealth: the basics

Telehealth provides patients with remote clinical services through several technologies. [4] Virtual visits and the exchange of information can be conducted via:

  • Video platforms
  • Text messaging
  • Telephone calls
  • Your healthcare provider’s online portal

Telehealth is separated into three unique categories that are used both together and independently, depending on your health needs, personal circumstances, and the telehealth options offered by your healthcare provider. The types of telehealth include: [5]

  • Synchronous – Synchronous telehealth service refers to healthcare that’s conducted in real-time–or, to phrase it differently, through live discussions and evaluations with your provider over the phone or through a video chat.
  • Asynchronous – Asynchronous telehealth is known as the ‘store and record’ method. This is data, such as your medical history or images, that’s shared between you and your chosen healthcare provider. For instance, you might email your primary care provider a photograph of a rash that has appeared on your ankle along with a written description and information on where and when it occurred. Your PCP can then forward this to a dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment.
  • Remote patient monitoring – Remote patient monitoring allows you and your clinician to observe and take note of your health and progress, oftentimes with the addition of an app or device, such as a pulse oximeter or a blood glucose monitor.

What forms of medicine does telehealth cover?

Telehealth extends to nearly every corner of healthcare. Obviously, certain forms of clinical care, such as surgery, X-rays, and MRIs require in-person visits. Otherwise, telehealth can be hugely effective. It has broad applications in the fields of: [6]

  • Radiology
  • Cardiology
  • Psychiatry
  • Gastroenterology
  • Immunology
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Dermatology
  • Primary care
  • Urgent care

What does telehealth treat?

Those who are new to telehealth consultation may balk at the idea of receiving healthcare treatment without an in-person encounter with a clinician. It’s also true that in-person provider visits are fundamental for conditions and circumstances that require direct contact. [7]

And yet, advancements in technology, coupled with savvy approaches, have made telehealth possible in several areas of medicine. It’s now used to treat and manage various health issues, including: [6]

  • Skin conditions – Skin conditions ranging from rosacea to psoriasis can be diagnosed and treated by a dermatologist via photographs, video, and conferencing. [8]
  • Mental health – Many of the major domains of mental health treatment can be handled remotely with telehealth, including diagnoses, counseling, therapy, and medication management. [6]
  • Urgent care – The last thing you want to do when you’re struck with a terrible cold, a bad cough, or an awful stomachache is wait in an urgent care facility or your primary care provider’s office, areas that can be uncomfortable when you’re under the weather and may also expose you to bacteria and viruses. Telehealth can be beneficial in this regard, allowing you to discuss your symptoms with your provider from a distance and receive a course of action conveniently from your home.
  • Caregiver support – Caregivers can use their clinician’s online health portal or another means of communication to ask questions and receive guidance. [9] This can be particularly valuable for those who provide 24/7 patient care.
  • Prescription management – Rather than waiting to obtain a traditional in-person appointment to review your medications and receive a script for a refill, you can manage your medications straight from your device.

Additionally, telehealth care extends to: [5, 6, 10]

  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Management for chronic conditions, such as diabetes
  • Management for recurring conditions like urinary tract infections
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Stroke care
  • Trauma and burn care

What is the purpose of telehealth?

Think back to the origins of telehealth and its role in providing medical care to astronauts. Originally, telehealth was designed in large part to ensure that people in isolated locations with limited or nonexistent medical services could receive essential care.

This shifted during the pandemic and is now seen as part of the solution to obtaining quality medical care in our ever-busy lives. Further, it expands care by furnishing patients with the opportunity to receive patient care from remote specialists. [11]

What are the benefits of telehealth services?

Whether you have an appointment at your provider’s private practice or are seeking medical treatment at a large healthcare facility, going to a physical appointment can trigger feelings of anxiety for many. Telehealth provides patients with a medium to receive care from the comfort and security of their homes.

In addition, telehealth offers: [6]

  • Affordability – Patients located in remote areas may have to go to great lengths to receive medical care. This can be prohibitively expensive for some and may deter them from obtaining care. Telehealth takes commute costs, time off from work, and childcare off the table, ultimately rendering it a more affordable option for many.
  • Accessibility – Rural communities may have limited medical services, and telehealth increases the accessibility of medical care for people who live in these areas. Even those who live in large cities with an abundance of healthcare options may have trouble connecting with a specialist who lives and practices some distance away. Telehealth helps to solve this. Telehealth also bolsters access for people with limited mobility.
  • Reduced wait time – Telehealth can curb the amount of time it takes to see a healthcare provider—a boon for those who have a health condition they would prefer to address sooner rather than later.

What are the drawbacks of telehealth?

Few systems are flawless, including medical care. A few of the disadvantages of telehealth include:

  • Mistaken diagnosis – The Mayo Clinic reports that one of the drawbacks of telehealth is that the absence of an in-person physical exam may impact a diagnosis. [12]
  • Gaps in care – One of the limitations of telehealth is that it might lead to a lack of continuity in medical care. Indeed, critics of the practice suggest that patients and their providers may be at a disadvantage without a physical examination. [13]

Other disadvantages of telehealth may include: [12, 13]

  • Security breaches when sensitive medical information is submitted electronically
  • Technical difficulties with the devices being used to perform a virtual visit
  • Virtual visits that may be impersonal
  • Legal and regulatory barriers

Telehealth FAQs

Telehealth may have grown exponentially in recent years, but it’s still novel to many. Below we answer the most frequently asked questions pertaining to telehealth practices.

How do telehealth and telemedicine differ?

The terms telehealth, telemedicine, e-health, and mobile health are often used interchangeably, and understandably so.

However, there are differences between telehealth and telemedicine. The American Academy of Family Physicians draws this distinction between them: [14]

  • Telemedicine – Telemedicine refers to virtual clinical care, i.e., a video consultation between you and your healthcare provider.
  • Telehealth – Telehealth has more breadth. It includes telemedicine under its umbrella but also covers non-clinical services. This might include accessing your online health portal to schedule an appointment, reviewing results from a recent blood test, or asking your provider questions virtually.

Can I use telehealth exclusively?

The ease of telehealth may suggest to some that it can substitute in-person care. However, experts suggest that telehealth should be used in conjunction with physical appointments, not replace them. [13]

Is telehealth covered by insurance?

Medicaid and many private insurance companies cover telehealth services. [9] That said, be sure to check with your insurance provider: What constitutes “telehealth” and the coverage that is offered depends on the state in which you live.

How do I prepare for a telehealth appointment?

If you’re new to virtual visits, your initial appointment might be nerve-wracking. This, too, is understandable. Ease into it by:

  • Ensuring the device you’re using—your smartphone, tablet, computer, or laptop—is fully charged and you have a strong and reliable internet connection. [9]
  • Conducting a test run to guarantee that your audio and video are operating well.
  • Finding a location with proper lighting. Your clinician should be able to see you clearly.

Also, do your best to relax into it. The more comfortable and candid you are during your virtual visit, the more successful it might be.

Enrich your telehealth experiences with Everlywell

Telehealth has grown from a niche practice to a global phenomenon, enabling people to receive the clinical care they need to live healthy, happy lives.

Everlywell can help you with telehealth access through a Virtual Care Visit that lets you speak with a healthcare provider (via video call) on your schedule.

How do I do a virtual visit with my healthcare provider?

Types of telehealth care and services

Differences between telehealth vs. in person care

Can medication be prescribed via telehealth?

How to treat an STI without going to a healthcare provider’s office

A better way to track your health over time

7 ways to best advocate for yourself at doctor’s appointments, according to an expert

Telehealth security and privacy: key points to know


  1. Monaghesh E, Hajizadeh A. The role of telehealth during COVID-19 outbreak: a systematic review based on current evidence. BMC Public Health. 2020;20(1):1193. Published 2020 Aug 1. doi:10.1186/s12889-020-09301-4
  2. A brief history of NASA's contributions to telemedicine. NASA. URL. Published March 27, 2020. Accessed October 25, 2022.
  3. New HHS study shows 63-fold increase in Medicare telehealth utilization during the pandemic. URL. Published December 3, 2021. Accessed October 25, 2022.
  4. Voran D. Telemedicine and beyond. Mo Med. 2015;112(2):129-135.
  5. Telehealth Systems. StatPearls [Internet]. URL. Accessed October 25, 2022.
  6. What is telehealth? URL. Accessed October 25, 2022.
  7. Telehealth: The advantages and disadvantages. Harvard Health. URL. Published October 12, 2020. Accessed October 25, 2022.
  8. Telemedicine: Overview. American Academy of Dermatology. URL. Accessed October 25, 2022.
  9. Telehealth: What is it, how to prepare, is it covered? National Institute on Aging. URL. Accessed October 25, 2022.
  10. Telehealth improves treatment for opioid use disorder. National Institutes of Health. URL. Published October 4, 2022. Accessed October 25, 2022.
  11. Which medical specialties use telemedicine the most? American Medical Association. URL. Published January 11, 2019. Accessed October 26, 2022.
  12. Telehealth: Technology Meets Health Care. Mayo Clinic. URL. Published June 18, 2022. Accessed October 25, 2022.
  13. Gajarawala SN, Pelkowski JN. Telehealth Benefits and Barriers. J Nurse Pract. 2021;17(2):218-221. doi:10.1016/j.nurpra.2020.09.013
  14. What's the difference between telemedicine and telehealth? American Academy of Family Physicians. URL. Published November 12, 2018. Accessed October 26, 2022.
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