What is telemedicine?

The digital world is always changing. That's why the world of public health is changing to match. Telehealth companies like Babylon provide health care at a distance. Digital health options like video appointments and personal health apps help doctors care for you and your family, even at afar.

So what is telemedicine? It is often used interchangeably with telehealth, but they're a little bit different. Telemedicine just means that your doctor is practicing medicine remotely, using technology. Things like getting a checkup with your primary care doctor would be part of telemedicine services.

Telehealth is a broader umbrella term. Any health care or services provided remotely using technology fall under telehealth. Telehealth covers a lot of behind-the-scenes people or non-clinical medical professionals. Patient advocates, administrative staff, and mental health counselors all fall under telehealth.

There's also telecare. Telecare includes wearable devices for monitoring older patients, like personal alarms. Patients dealing with physical disabilities may also benefit from the remote monitoring of telecare.

A digital world: information technology and telehealth

Digital health is changing the way people engage with healthcare in the US. It's rare to know someone without access to the internet, whether by computer or smartphone. Moving towards remote clinical services is simply the next step in making healthcare accessible to as many people as possible. People are already used to using online search engines for advice on their symptoms. Providing health information, medical education, and access to medical care online lets patients get better and more personal care for their needs without the inconvenience of a doctor’s office.

Monitoring patients' health used to require a trip to the doctor's office. Medical services were largely available only if you were able to make an in-person visit. Records could be difficult to obtain or to access at-will.

Using telehealth services allows patients and caregivers to neatly dodge many of these issues. If you can't make it into a doctor's office, or simply don't want to for any reason, video visits allow you to skip the waiting room. Follow-up appointments cause less hassle when you can make them from your living room or office. With the Babylon app, doctor's notes are available to review whenever you want. Healthcare systems are developing with you in mind.

Telemedicine during COVID-19

Avoiding a crowded waiting room is a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the CDC, you can use telemedicine to "decrease your contact with healthcare facilities, other patients, and healthcare staff in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 and keep you and your family healthy."

The coronavirus is often spread from person to person, or from touching something an infected person has touched. Remote care allows you to avoid crowded areas where people may be sick. It also protects clinicians, who would otherwise have an increased risk from in-person patient care.

The CDC recommends using remote healthcare organizations for screening for COVID-19, non-emergency general health care, getting prescriptions, and nutrition and mental health counseling. If you need more information about COVID-19, Babylon’s COVID-19 Care Assistant is here to help.

Pros, cons and when telemedicine is better

There are both advantages and disadvantages to virtual care from your healthcare provider.

Pros

  • Virtual visits are convenient. With Babylon, you can usually schedule a doctor's appointment within half an hour. You can get real-time interactive care from your doctor while sitting comfortably in your living room. You avoid the time and hassle of travel. Appointments with healthcare providers are available 24/7.
  • A wide variety of treatments are available. Not only can your primary care physician give you a treatment plan for everything from blood pressure control to the flu, you can also get specialized care. Pediatric healthcare is available, as are prenatal care and urgent care services. You can also speak to a licensed therapist for mental health issues.
  • An increase in health equality. Accessibility can be a big issue in healthcare. People who live in remote locations may have a harder time getting to a physical office. The elderly and people with compromised immune systems or chronic conditions may find it hard or tiring to get from their home to a healthcare professional. Those with odd working hours may find it difficult to schedule an appointment. With access to virtual care at all hours of the day, it's much easier for those with difficulties to reach medical help.
  • Increased privacy and discretion. Our videoconferencing and medical information storage are set up to protect your data. If you feel any concerns about seeking help, it's easy to access care discretely from a remote location.
  • Quick transfers to specialists. Babylon’s healthcare providers can refer patients to specialists when needed and send through any necessary medical information to make the transition as easy as possible.
  • Increased infection control. An unfortunate side effect of going to the doctor can be getting exposed to other sick people, or exposing them to you. We've removed the need to gather everyone under one roof. This makes it harder for diseases to spread.

Cons

  • Technical difficulties. Telemedicine technology is just that: technology. It can break, malfunction, or otherwise give you a headache. We have advice for some of our common troubleshooting issues in our FAQs. Make sure you have a reliable and secure Wi-Fi or 4G connection for your appointment. Go to your settings, and allow Babylon to access your microphone and camera.
  • Bad WiFi connections. Unfortunately, some places simply do not have a good WiFi connection. If possible, you can look into a different internet provider or purchase a WiFi booster. Sometimes, even relocating your router may boost your signal. Contact your internet provider for more advice on boosting your WiFi.
  • Some patients may not have much experience with using technology daily. Even if the digital world isn't your strong point, the Babylon app is easy to use. We've designed our app to be intuitive, with clearly-labeled sections. If you're struggling with using the app, please contact our support team at 1 (800) 475-6168 or email us-support@babylonhealth.com.
  • Some situations require an in-person visit. There's just no getting around it. Sometimes, a virtual visit won't cut it. Certain medications require an in-person doctor's visit. Life-threatening medical emergencies require a visit to the ER. However, you can elect to have your Babylon medical information shared with your normal primary care doctor, to make your physical visit run more smoothly.

When to consider telemedicine

There are many situations where telemedicine is the best option available. Those in rural areas without ready access to healthcare services may find that virtual appointments allow them to get the care they need. Some elderly patients or patients with certain chronic conditions may find it difficult to reach an office. Telehealth doctor appointments don't require these patients to leave the comfort of their homes. Some healthcare delivery services, such as delivered prescriptions, can also help patients who find it difficult to leave the house. Those patients who require frequent follow-up appointments can save on time and money by taking these appointments at home. Find out more about what you need and how to book an appointment with a Babylon healthcare provider.

We treat most of the common ailments you would take to your primary care doctor. Here is a full list of medical conditions we can treat virtually. Babylon also provides a health check tool and Symptom Checker you can use to assess any potential causes and next steps.

How to get the most out of telemedicine healthcare services

Telemedicine appointments don't need to be scary. Even something as complex-sounding as telecommunications technology breaks down into services and patient data stored via the Babylon app.

So how do you get the most out of your virtual appointment? Here are some tips for your next virtual visit.

Check the settings on your mobile device

Go to the settings on your smartphone or tablet before the appointment starts. Make sure the Babylon app has permission to access your device's camera and microphone. There are also online sites to check that your microphone is working properly, or there may be a test available in your settings.

Know where you're going to have your appointment beforehand

Make sure you have somewhere quiet and private that you can have your appointment. If you have roommates or family members living with you, let them know when you'll be busy. If you have a pet that needs to be let out, let them out before the appointment. Then, keep them in another room during the call.

Have a reliable internet connection available

If possible, test your WiFi connection before your appointment. Avoid doing anything that can use a lot of bandwidth during your appointment, such as downloading a game or movie. Close programs you're not using.

Have a comfortable camera setup

It's likely you're using a handheld device like a phone or laptop. If possible, find somewhere to prop your device during the call. This frees up your hands for writing notes and keeps your arms from getting tired. Make sure your doctor is still able to see you (this includes turning on a light!).

Make sure your mobile device is charged

Charge your device before your appointment. Then, have your charging cable plugged in and on hand, especially if your device has trouble holding a charge.

Be prepared with questions you need to ask

It often helps to have your questions written down so you don't forget to ask something important. Leave room to write down your doctor's answers.

FAQs

Are video appointments safe?

Yes. Our video connections are safe and secure to protect your data. Your appointments are private. We store all your personal health data on secure servers located in the United States. Your account is password protected.

What can I expect from a telehealth consultation?

Your doctor will call you through the Babylon app. They will discuss your symptoms, form a treatment plan with you, and prescribe medicine if needed. Your doctor's notes can be accessed after the appointment through the app.

Which healthcare services can be provided by telemedicine?

We have a list of what conditions we treat online here. Typically, 80% of health issues can be handled by a video appointment*. You can also book an appointment with a therapist or get referrals to labs and specialists.

* Based on research from Cal Matters, Kaiser Permanente, and internal UK data from Babylon GP at Hand

What is remote patient monitoring used for?

Remote patient monitoring is used to collect patient medical and health data remotely. They securely transmit that information to your doctor to help them make their assessment. Babylon does not offer remote patient monitoring, but you may encounter it in other telehealth services.

What are some examples of telehealth devices?

There are several kinds of wearable devices that transmit vital signs to your doctor. A mobile ECG device tracks a patient's heart rate. Certain devices measure the blood sugar of patients with diabetes. Others may measure weight, blood pressure, or blood oxygen levels.

Are video healthcare appointments better than telephone appointments?

With certain symptoms, video can be more beneficial than an audio-only call. Video calls allow your doctor to assess visual symptoms, such as rash or redness.

Can telehealth doctors prescribe medication?

Yes. Virtual doctors can prescribe most common medications, including antibiotics and birth control. Controlled substances may require an in-person consultation. Ask your doctor for more information.

What equipment do I need for a telemedicine consultation?

You need a smartphone or tablet with the Babylon app installed. You need a working microphone. It is highly recommended you have a medium- to high-quality camera, for your healthcare provider to give you the best care.