When the covid-19 pandemic swept the country in early 2020 and emptied doctors’ offices nationwide, telemedicine was suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Patients and their physicians turned to virtual visits by video or phone rather than risk meeting face-to-face.
During the early months of the pandemic, telehealth visits for care exploded.
“It was a dramatic shift in one or two weeks that we would expect to happen in a decade,” said Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, a professor at Harvard Medical School whose research focuses on telemedicine and other health care delivery innovations. “It’s great that we served patients, but we did not accumulate the norms and [research] papers that we would normally accumulate so that we can know what works and what doesn’t work.”
Now, three years after the start of the pandemic, we’re still figuring that out. Although telehealth use has moderated, it has found a role in many physician practices, and it is popular with patients.
More than any other field, behavioral health has embraced telehealth. Mental health conditions accounted for just under two-thirds of telehealth claims in November 2022, according to FairHealth, a nonprofit that manages a large database of private and Medicare insurance claims.
Telehealth appeals to a variety of patients because it allows them to simply log on to their computer and avoid the time and expense of driving, parking, and arranging child care that an in-person visit often requires.
But how do you gauge when to opt for a telehealth visit versus seeing your doctor in person? There are no hard-and-fast rules, but here’s some guidance about when it may make more sense to choose one or the other.
If It’s Your First Visit
“As a patient, you’re trying to evaluate the physician, to see if you can talk to them and trust them,” said Dr. Russell Kohl, a family physician and board member of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “It’s hard to do that on a telemedicine visit.”
Maybe your insurance has changed and you need a new primary care doctor or OB-GYN. Or perhaps you have a chronic cond …