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What is Telemedicine

By now you've probably heard that more people are using telemedicine during the pandemic. If you'd like to avoid an in-person doctor's appointment because you're concerned about exposure to COVID-19, or you simply want to save time, you might be tempted to schedule a virtual visit. There are several ways to do this, including through a telemedicine company like Teladoc or a retail pharmacy such as CVS.

But doctors across the country agree that if you have a primary care physician, it's best to start with him or her. “Your doctor has your medical records, and they enable him or her to make an informed decision about your care,” says Paul Testa, M.D., chief medical information officer and assistant professor in the department of emergency medicine at NYU Langone Health. “Keeping your medical records in one place allows for the safest, highest-quality care.” What's more, your doctor probably takes your insurance and knows which pharmacy you use.

Examples of patient portals

If your doctor is part of a hospital system, setting up a virtual visit is relatively easy. You'll download an app (if you're using a mobile device), create an account, and log in just before your appointment. You'll click on a link to begin your video visit. In some cases the appointment will automatically become part of your medical record. For example, hospital systems — such as Cleveland Clinic, NYU Langone Health, MedStar Health, Partners HealthCare, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Geisinger, Novant Health and Providence — have integrated patients’ medical records into their telemedicine platforms.

Even if your doctor doesn't belong to a hospital system, she may be willing to see you through a videoconferencing service you connect to through your phone or laptop, such as Zoom, FaceTime, Google Duo, Cisco Webex, Skype or Many doctors and hospital systems use Zoom because it's secure and HIPAA-compliant, meaning it protects your health information. Also, Zoom visits can be integrated into a patient's medical record. If you're familiar with another service, don't hesitate to ask about using it. “Patients have the right to request a service they're comfortable with, such as Skype or Zoom,” says Joseph Kvedar, M.D., president of the American Telemedicine Association and professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School.


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