Telemedicine is the use of telecommunication and information technology to offer non-emergency clinical health care services at a distance. You can skip the waiting room and have a convenient virtual at-home or virtual office consultation with your healthcare professional using video chats, messaging, and digital technology platforms.

David Copenhaver, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Pain Tele-Health Programs and Professor and Chief of Pain Medicine at UC Davis, says that telemedicine’s benefits include convenience and the ability to get care when distance or driving to an appointment are barriers.

“For follow up visits where patients already have a known and established relationship with their clinician, telehealth can be a fabulous way of maintaining contact, describing and surveilling current therapies that the patient is taking, and communicating changes in their care. We’ve even seen telehealth be useful for those of us that do surgeries and perform procedures,” says Dr. Copenhaver. He shares that telemedicine can also be useful for checking on a wound or evaluating a patient’s progress. 

To prepare for getting the most out of a telemedicine visit, Dr. Copenhaver says, “One bit of advice for patients is in order to provide the best care for yourself and advocate for yourself, is to be a good steward of your medical records and history and come to the visit with a well-prepared understanding [of your medical history] to guide your clinician in helping you.”

Telemedicine cannot replace all doctor’s visits. If you are experiencing shortness of breath, chest pain, excessive bleeding, a high fever, severe vomiting, seizures, or you think you broke a bone, you should immediately call 911 or go to the emergency room. If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Crisis Lifeline at 988 or get to an emergency room right away.

While virtual appointments can replace many trips to the doctor for common medical issues, they cannot totally replace a hands-on in person physical examination. It’s important to still have an open line of communication with your primary healthcare provider.

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