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Why I Love Telehealth and Hope It’s Here to Stay

Just because your health savings account (HSA) can be used as an emergency fund, doesn’t mean it should be. Here’s Kate’s take.

I’ll admit it—I tend to visit Dr. Google at 2 a.m. when I think something’s wrong, but not wrong enough to go leave my house. Most of the time, I go down a rabbit hole of convincing myself that my symptoms fit the worst possible ailment I can find.

Like the one time I got mastitis (a pretty common breastfeeding-related illness) but swore I had caught coronavirus because some symptoms are similar—fever, chills, and body aches.

The clinic near my house was limiting in-person appointments during the pandemic, so I spoke with a doctor over the phone. I’m happy to report that what I had was not COVID-19-positive.

Since then, I’ve jumped on a call with the doctor to discuss my health and my daughter’s health on a few other occasions. And I’ve got to say—telehealth is really something I’ve begun to get behind.

It’s More Efficient

Telehealth can be considered a doctor’s visit via phone or video conference. In my experience, telehealth appointments are leaps and bounds more efficient than regular doctor visits—at least for non-serious issues. Plus, telehealth also includes teletherapy, something many people were suddenly finding themselves going without at the beginning of quarantine.

Each time, I got an appointment faster and spoke to the doctor without having to sit in a waiting room. I also didn’t have to pack up the stroller and clear out an entire afternoon for the trip. I chatted with the doctor for about 30 minutes and then went about my day.

Doctors Seem to Love It

The doctor with whom I “visited” seemed more pleasant over the phone than when we’d previously met in the office. And honestly, I can’t blame them; for non-life-threatening issues, I have to say… I’d definitely prefer to be talking to patients over the phone lines or video waves. I also didn’t get the sense that the doctor was in a rush to speak to another patient, so I was able to get through all of my questions and concerns, no problem.

I’m Not at Risk of Getting Myself or My Family Sick

The pediatrician’s office is usually teeming with sick children and even the primary care doctor’s office can be a germ hotbed. A remote appointment means less opportunity to catch something at the office.

And thanks to doctors taking fewer office visits, the times wherein I have had to go in for routine child wellness visits, the place was virtually empty; just the way I like it.

So, Is Telehealth the Way of the Future?

Innovation in telehealth may come faster now because of COVID-19. In the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, Congress set aside $200 million in funding for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program to help eligible health care providers expand virtual and in-home services to patients during the pandemic.

Telehealth may or may not be covered by insurance depending on your plan, so you should check to see what the out-of-pocket costs may be. There are, however, some new insurance developments under the CARES Act for high-deductible health plans (HDHPs).

From the institution of the CARES Act a few months back until the end of 2021, telehealth is covered by an HDHP prior to meeting your deductible… and you’re still eligible for a health savings account (HSA). Before the Act, telehealth services could be classified as “additional coverage” which could disqualify you from an HSA.

Another nice development: the CARES Act made menstrual products and over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol HSA eligible expenses, woohoo!

How to Make the Most of a Remote Appointment 

Don’t visit Dr. Google before your phone appointment like I did; you can talk yourself into having symptoms that aren’t actually present. And giving the doctor the wrong clues based on your own conclusions could make it harder for them to help you over the phone or video.

When I had mastitis, one of the symptoms I thought I had was shortness of breath. That coupled with fever, chills, and fatigue sounded like COVID-19. In reality, the shortness of breath was coming from the anxiety of thinking I had COVID-19. Trust me, close out that WebMD tab.

Also, make sure you’re somewhere private to take the call. You don’t want to ask the best way to get rid of athlete’s foot (or whatever…) while in the Target makeup aisle—awkward.

Lastly, know when it’s time to go in and see someone.

Calls and videos are great and all, but there are occasions where a virtual appointment can’t take the place of a physical one. And you shouldn’t avoid the doctor’s office if you think an ailment could be serious. Instead, throw on a mask and get to the doctor!