How Does Telehealth Work? Benefits, Cost, and More

By Craig Sorkin, DNP, APN
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
October 18, 2022

Telehealth, sometimes called telemedicine, has been in use by many providers for over a decade. But since the emergence of COVID-19, telehealth use has increased significantly. What initially became a universal solution to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus has proven to be a critical tool for providing convenient access to healthcare for a diverse range of patient populations. 

There are many benefits that telehealth offers, including improved access to information and services, convenience, shorter wait times for appointments, and increased access to certain specialists. But there are also potential limitations and risks to using telehealth. Understanding the ins and outs of telehealth can help you to make informed decisions when weighing your in-person vs. telehealth options.  

How Does Telehealth Work?

Telehealth enables your provider to care for you without an in-person office visit. There are a wide range of services included under the general telehealth umbrella, but generally it requires an internet, bluetooth, or cellular connection.

If you’re speaking with a provider online via video visit or chat message or checking lab results, you’ll need an internet connection and digital device. Depending on the nature of your visit, having a private space from which to connect with your provider may also be important. Be sure that your device also has working sound and video capabilities, if required for your telehealth services.

If you’re using a remote patient monitoring device (RPM), speak with your provider about how best to use the device. Depending on the type of device, you’ll need to set up either a bluetooth or cellular connection. 

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Benefits of Telehealth

Over the past few years, more providers and patients have experienced first-hand the many benefits that telehealth offers.  

Convenience

Visiting your provider in-person can be an important and necessary action when seeking care. But using telehealth services reduces many of the barriers people face when arranging visits, including securing transportation and/or childcare or taking time off of work. When appropriate, telehealth is a convenient solution for accessing healthcare.   

Access to specialists

If your primary care provider (PCP) refers you to a specialist, there is no guarantee that said specialist will have a practice nearby. Connecting virtually can decrease the wait time required for speaking with that specialist and make it easier to connect with them from the comfort and safety of your home (or workplace).   

Reduced costs

Telehealth coverage varies widely from state to state and can depend on the type of coverage you have. Still, using telehealth can reduce the cost of each visit in many cases.  

Improved care coordination

Using telehealth services often ensures that your provider leaves detailed notes of each visit as part of your electronic medical record, which can help to improve care coordination among your wider healthcare team. Research shows that other forms of telehealth, like remote patient monitoring, can also enhance coordination of care for certain patient populations.  

Greater patient engagement

Telehealth makes it easier for people to access healthcare when they’re unable to visit a provider in-person. Over time, this increases patient engagement, which can also benefit overall health outcomes.   

Risks and Limitations of Telehealth

There are also some risks and limitations to accessing care virtually.

Technology problems

Using telehealth requires having reliable access to the internet and/or cellular or bluetooth devices. Even when reliable access to the internet is available, some patients have difficulty understanding how to use the internet to connect with their provider. This can be especially challenging for older populations. In other cases, technical problems can arise that make using telehealth challenging or temporarily inaccessible.   

Limited interaction

Connecting with a provider virtually limits the type of interaction you’re able to have. Though providers can make many assessments virtually, in some cases a telehealth appointment is insufficient to make an accurate diagnosis. 

Potential for abuse

For some patients, having more convenient access to their healthcare team through the means of telehealth can increase the risk of them abusing or misusing that service. People with severe health anxiety (previously known as hypochondria) may use telehealth services more frequently than what is warranted. 

Cost of Telehealth Services

The cost of telehealth services can vary widely in the U.S. depending on which state you live in, whether you have health insurance, and whether your insurance covers the cost of telehealth. 

In most cases, a telehealth consultation will be less expensive than an in-person consultation if you have health insurance.

What Does Telehealth Include?

There are many services included in the scope of telehealth. Some of the most common examples of telehealth include:

  • Virtual visits (conducted over video, phone, or chat)
  • Lab or test results
  • Prescription medicine management
  • Post-surgical follow-up 
  • Eye exams
  • Nutrition counseling
  • Mental health counseling
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Urgent care consultations
  • Remote monitoring services

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Bottom Line

Telehealth has proven to be an essential tool in modern healthcare. Telehealth offers a myriad of possible benefits, including improved access to care, convenience, better access to specialists, and improved care coordination. Still, there are some limitations and risks to using telehealth. Patients less familiar with using virtual services may struggle to leverage telehealth and access its benefits. But if using telehealth will increase the likelihood of you seeking care when you need it, you should take advantage of its services.

Talk to a Virtual Doctor

K Health uses telehealth to treat and manage various conditions; such as UTIs, yeast infections, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cold and flu, asthma, allergies, and more – all from the comfort of home. You can also check your symptoms for free, or book an appointment for a time that works for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you use telehealth?
There are many ways to use telehealth services, including speaking with a healthcare provider over phone, video chat, or live chat. In most cases, you will need access to the internet, bluetooth, or a cellular connection in order to use telehealth.
How do you do telehealth on the phone?
You can use your phone to connect to telehealth services by using a telehealth app, speaking with a provider over video chat, phone call, or live chat. However, it’s important to keep in mind that your phone will need to be connected to the internet (or a cellular connection) in order for these services to work.
Do I need an app to use telehealth?
Not always. It depends on the type of telehealth services you are using and how your provider connects with their patients virtually.
Does telehealth mean over the phone?
Telehealth can refer to visits and other consultations conducted over the phone. But it can also refer to services conducted on a computer, tablet, or other device, including video chat, live chat, prescriptions management, viewing lab or test results, and remote monitoring services.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Craig Sorkin, DNP, APN

Craig Sorkin, DNP, APN is a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 15 years experience. He received his Undergraduate and Graduate degrees from William Paterson University and his doctoral degree from Drexel University. He has spent his career working in the Emergency Room and Primary Care. The last 6 years of his career have been dedicated to the field of digital medicine. He has created departments geared towards this specialized practice as well as written blogs and a book about the topic.