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Telemedicine: How to take advantage of this health care perk

Christina Joseph By Christina Joseph

One Friday night, Tameka Hamlin discovered her 2-year-old daughter had pinkeye ― again. Because it can be highly contagious, she wanted to start treating it right away. Her husband suggested they give telemedicine a try.

Soon, a pediatrician was examining Tameka’s daughter by video chat. The toddler had been treated the month before for bacterial conjunctivitis, so the doctor concluded that this was a recurrence and called in a prescription for antibiotics.

Telemedicine, also called virtual care, refers to medical or mental health advice or treatment provided by phone, mobile app or online video. Busy work schedules, late-night health surprises, and long trips to the nearest medical office can delay access to care. So can the stigma around some mental health conditions. More recently, people postponed routine visits because of COVID-19. (Find out how Aetna is supporting members through the COVID-19 crisis.)

Keep reading to learn when and how telemedicine can help you get the care you need.

You can’t get to a doctor’s office

There are all sorts of reasons people can’t make it to the doctor in person. Maybe driving isn’t a good idea because you’re sick or the weather is bad. Perhaps missing a half day of work means you don’t get paid. With telemedicine, it’s no problem at all: You can stay healthy while staying home.

In order to help members stay safe, Aetna is encouraging the use of telemedicine for routine health visits, including mental health. Call your provider to see if they offer telemedicine services. You can also log in to Teladoc, an Aetna partner, to find a provider for virtual care.

Aetna members can learn more about their Teladoc benefits and set up their account here.

You need late-night or weekend care

Many doctors work regular office hours, Monday through Friday. But 75% of life happens outside that window of time. Even if a nearby walk-in clinic is open with extended hours, you may not be eager to leave home late at night. With telemedicine, you can talk to a doctor 24/7.

You’re struggling to cope and need someone to talk to

If you’re dealing with stress, grief, loneliness, anxiety or negative thoughts, don’t wait to get help. You can access professional mental health support from the safety and comfort of your home, 7 days a week. Virtual care can also help those struggling with the stigma associated with mental health treatment: You can schedule your sessions whenever you have some private time. Here are two ways to get virtual care:

  • Resources for Living (RFL). Get real-time phone support 24/7 to help you cope with current stress and anxiety, and to identify resources to support basic needs such as meals, childcare, eldercare and financial guidance. If you’re an Aetna member, you may have access to this program. Just call the number provided in your plan materials.
  • Virtual therapy. Telemedicine services like Teladoc can connect you with board-certified psychiatrists and licensed therapists for appointments by phone or video. Choose the provider that best fits your needs, then schedule your appointment. If you need ongoing care, you can talk to the same therapist each time. Find out more about virtual therapy here.

Learn more about Aetna’s expanded mental health resources available to everyone during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The benefits of telemedicine

If you haven’t used telemedicine before, you may be wondering how it works. Below are some details about why to use the service as well as what kind of care to expect:

  • Talk to high-quality family doctors and therapists. Teladoc physicians, for example, are all board-certified and state-licensed, and have an average of 20 years of experience. 
  • You don’t need any special technology or skills. If you can use a regular phone, you can use telemedicine. Some services also offer video consults through a mobile app or desktop computer.
  • Virtual doctors can prescribe most medication. Prescriptions can be picked up at your choice of pharmacy across the country. Some pharmacies even offer free delivery.
  • Telehealth doctors can diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions: cold and flu symptoms, allergies, bronchitis, sinus infections, rashes, pinkeye (in kids and adults), arthritis flare-ups, anxiety and depression, among others. You can find a more detailed list of conditions here.
  • Some illnesses and injuries require an in-office visit. For serious problems, you should go directly to your local urgent care center or emergency room. That’s true of broken bones, head injuries, severe burns, chest pain and vomiting blood as well as emergency mental health needs.

How to get started

Ask your insurance company or employer if your benefits include telehealth. Setting up an account before you have a medical problem or want mental health support will minimize delays later if you need quick care. However, you can also register when you request your first consult. You’ll choose your preferred platform: phone or app. Then you’ll give your medical history, the same way you would in a provider’s office. After requesting a consult, someone will contact you.

“Health care can be time consuming, confusing and expensive,” says Nassar Mufti, an Aetna product manager who works with Teladoc. “Telemedicine provides 24/7, 365 convenience and high-quality care.” Tameka Hamlin said it best: Why isn’t everybody using it?

About the author

Christina Joseph Robinson is a veteran editor and writer from New Jersey who still loves to read the old-fashioned newspaper. She’s raising two fruit-and-veggie loving daughters to balance all the treats Grandma sends their way. Christina’s health goal is to resume her workout routine after being sidelined by injuries.

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