How to vet telemedicine providers

May 5, 2020 in Disease Management  •  By Miles Varn, MD

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, more people are trying telemedicine services rather than going to the doctor’s office or hospital to receive care. In fact, many primary care physicians are encouraging their patients to use virtual visits to limit the risk of being exposed to someone with the virus. You can even use telemedicine to connect with experienced specialists who can provide second opinions and recommendations if you’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness like cancer or Parkinson’s disease and with mental health providers.

When choosing a telemedicine provider, there are several issues you should consider:

  • Who will be providing your care: Contact the service and find out what type of healthcare provider you will see during your virtual visit (an MD or DO, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, nurse, licensed social worker, counselor). Find out if you can review the provider’s credentials, such as where he or she was trained and whether she or he is board certified or has fellowship training. If you’re using telemedicine to seek a second opinion or advice on a serious health problem, ask for the provider’s outcome data for the condition you’ve been diagnosed with.
  • The security of your information: Ask what steps are taken to ensure that your virtual visit is secure and that any additional communications you have with the provider and medical records you share will be secure. Does the service use a portal that requires a username and password? If the visit is conducted through a smartphone app, what are the privacy settings, what information about you will be gathered, and will any of that information be shared or sold?
  • Wait times to get an appointment: Find out how quickly you can connect with a virtual provider, which can be especially important if you’re ill, seeking a second opinion, or in need of mental healthcare services. Does the service operate on an appointment basis or is it first come first served, with patients waiting in a queue until a provider is available, similar to what you’d experience at a bricks and mortar urgent care facility or emergency room?
  • How information will be shared: If your virtual visit is with a provider other than your regular primary care physician or specialist, ask how information about your diagnosis, treatment, prescriptions, and needed follow-up care will be communicated with your regular doctor to ensure continuity of care and lower the risk of medical errors or duplicate testing. You’ll also want to know how you can access the information or see a visit summary. If diagnostic tests are needed, how will you receive the results?
  • Insurance coverage and costs: Before your virtual visit, contact your health insurer and find out if the telemedicine provider is in your plan’s network and, if so, what services are covered by your plan and what your copay or coinsurance is. You will also want to find out what the provider charges for virtual visits and whether you’re expected to pay at the time you receive care or whether the service will submit a bill to your health insurer.