What Is Telehealth?

by National Institute on Aging

Telehealth is a service that uses video calling and other technologies to help you see your doctor or other health care provider from home instead of at a medical facility. Telehealth may be particularly helpful for older adults with limited mobility and for those living in rural areas, as they will have the opportunity to see and talk with their doctor from their home. For older adults, talking with their doctor online, through a phone, tablet, or other electronic device, can often be easier, faster, and less expensive than making a trip to an office.

Telehealth can also help support family caregivers who are taking care of their loved ones either close by or from afar. If a caregiver needs to ask the doctor a question, they can do so through an online health portal rather than waiting for and traveling to an in-person appointment.

Telehealth and telemedicine are two different types of online health care services. Telemedicine refers specifically to online doctor visits, while telehealth also includes health-related education services like diabetes management or nutrition courses and health-related training.

The transition from in-person to online appointments can be difficult for some people, especially those who are not familiar with the technology. By taking a few minutes before your appointment to prepare, you can set yourself up for a more successful visit.

Try to use the best camera you can find. This may be attached to your phone, laptop, tablet, or desktop computer. A clear picture can help your doctor understand and address your concerns more easily and effectively.

Test the camera in advance. Practice in advance with a family member or a friend to make sure you understand how to use your camera when you have your online visit with your doctor.

Test the sound and video on your device. Most devices have built-in microphones and speakers, but you may have to turn them on or enable the telehealth software or website to access them. Video calling a friend before your appointment can help ensure that everything is working properly. Using headphones or earbuds may make it easier for you to hear your doctor and for your doctor to hear you, but it’s good to test these out first to see what works best.

Use the best internet connection possible. If you are not using Wi-Fi, try getting the best signal by using a wired connection to your router or an Ethernet cable. If you are using Wi-Fi, being physically close to the internet router and minimizing devices connected to it can help improve your connection.

Charge your device. If you are using a wireless device, like a phone, laptop, or tablet, check to make sure your battery is charged enough to last through your appointment. Try charging it the night before your appointment.

Many insurance providers, including Medicaid and some private insurers, are beginning to cover telehealth services. However, telehealth coverage varies widely from state to state with differences in how telehealth is defined and paid for. Because insurance coverage policies differ, it’s important to check with insurance providers or your health care provider’s billing department directly for the latest information about coverage for telehealth services.

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