Virtual Visits: Can Your Doctor Really Help You Without An In-Office Visit?
By: Pelin Batur, MD • Posted on January 16, 2019
Are Virtual Visits Really Beneficial To The Patient?
Yes! Over the last decade, there has been an incredible growth in the number of virtual visits (also called distance health or telehealth). With a virtual visit you are able to have a full appointment with your doctor by using any communication device that has a camera, including your phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. All that is needed is a reliable internet connection and a phone or computer with audio-video capability.
Commonly Treated Women's Health Conditions
Many problems can be taken care of without an in-person examination, including:
- urinary tract infections
- certain vaginal complaints
- hormonal concerns
- need for contraception
- menopausal hormone follow up
- updating routine care needs like ordering screening colonoscopy
A Virtual Visit Before An In-Office Visit Expedites Care
For problems that typically require an exam in the office, a virtual visit can help expedite care before the in-office visit. Once the physician or advanced practice nurse or physician assistant more clearly understands your concern during the virtual visit, she can order any necessary blood tests and imaging prior to the in-office appointment. Then the testing can be conveniently reviewed at the time of the examination. This often helps minimize the number of appointments and visits for you.
For example, I recently took care of a patient who had been having trouble with heavy bleeding. She was having a hard time getting an appointment with a gynecologist. After our discussion, I was able to order her hormonal blood tests and an ultrasound, and help expedite an appointment with one of my colleagues near her home. I was also able to initiate treatment for her during that same virtual video visit, as our discussion gave me a pretty good idea of what was happening. By the time that she went in for the follow-up with the GYN closer to her home, the testing had confirmed what the problem was, and she was happy to see some improvements in her symptoms with the treatment I provided. The follow-up examination with the local gynecologist confirmed the likely diagnosis, and now she has a contact closer to home in case she has problems again.
Because she took the initiative to try the virtual visit, she ended up saving weeks of her valuable time, not wasted while waiting for an initial appointment. These visits seem to be a win-win for all (including the patient, doctor, and the health system), which likely explains their growing popularity. Patients have the convenience of accessing care quickly on their own schedule, without having to drive in for an appointment.
When Can Patients Schedule Virtual Visits?
Virtual visits are available in the evenings, weekends, and can even be done right after work in your parked car in the work parking lot! Students that are studying out of state can access these visits in the health system where their records are available, as opposed to a student center where they do not know their health history. Those who may benefit most include:
- Those with a disability (or difficulty getting out due to caregiving responsibilities).
- Those who live far from their doctor.
- Those who travel frequently.
- Those with difficult work schedules.
Patients who are seen for a second opinion from out of state can continue to work with their doctor when back home, from their kitchen, while cooking dinner. Most doctors also prefer to address a problem with a virtual visit as opposed to a message left with the office staff, as this ensures a more comprehensive understanding of the patient’s problem.
Are Virtual Visits Covered By Insurance?
Virtual visits are covered under many insurance plans, and many more will be covering them in full or with partial co-pay over the course of the next few years. In fact, it is projected that up to 50% of care will be through virtual visits over the next decade. Many employers and insurance companies are incorporating virtual visits because they have found this to be a more economical option, with up to 50-60% reduction in the cost of healthcare. For those who do not have coverage for virtual visits, the typical out-of-pocket cost for a simple visit is $55, which is often a much cheaper option for those with high deductible plans.
Some doctors do provide initial consultative services for more complex problems via telehealth. The pricing for these visits may be higher (specific pricing should be discussed with the doctor’s office as well as the insurance company).
Cleveland Clinic offers two different types of virtual visits
Scheduled virtual visits need to be scheduled by your doctor’s office staff (you just have to specify that it is for a virtual visit). You can schedule a discussion of a simple or more complex problem this way.
24/7 On Demand Visits
On Demand virtual visits are for same-day video call access at varying times every day of the week, including weekends. You do not need to have a regular Cleveland Clinic doctor to set up an on demand appointment, nor do you have to call a scheduler to arrange the visit. Simply download the free Cleveland Clinic Express Care® Online app.
You will find a variety of on demand options, including:
- Women's Health
- Primary Care
Downloading and using the app is very easy. Even if you are not tech-savvy, every family has someone who loves to show off their downloading skills (nowadays, often someone under the age of 13)!
I have started to incorporate virtual visits in my practice within this past year, and both the patients and I have been very happy with the communication and flexibility that this offers. At times, technical glitches can occur, but this has not stood in the way of completing the visits successfully. Technical problems can be prevented by:
- Ensuring that you have a reliable internet connection, such as avoiding driving through low–reception zones with your phone during the visit.
- Switch to the ‘do not disturb mode’ on your phone so the visit isn’t terminated by an incoming phone call.
Most importantly, we want to make sure you are comfortable and that you are in a private area to share your concerns. Also, be safe, please NO driving while on a virtual video visit!
Be Strong. Be Healthy. Be in Charge!
-Pelin Batur, MD
Pelin Batur MD has been at the Cleveland Clinic since 1998. Dr. Batur graduated medical school from Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine (NEOMED). After her internal medicine residency training, she completed specialty fellowship training in women’s health at the Cleveland Clinic. Her specialty interests include menopausal care, contraception, bone health, menstrual migraine, sexual concerns, as well as overall preventative women’s health. She has partnered with the Taussig Cancer Institute to develop a comprehensive Female Sexual Dysfunction program for cancer survivors.