Telehealth — also known as virtual care, telemedicine and video visits — has been around in some form for decades. But it boomed during the pandemic as a safe and convenient way to receive nonemergency medical care.
From March 2019 to March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported a 154% increase in telehealth use. Locally, Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group reports the number of virtual visits is over 2,000% higher now than in 2019.
Virtual care is recognized as a helpful alternative to an office visit. Patients can securely connect with their doctor or another care provider using a computer, tablet or smartphone. They can also share information about health concerns and receive professional opinions from home or on the go. The time savings and convenience of virtual care are especially helpful for working parents and caregivers.
When it comes to women’s health, virtual care services can be used for the treatment and management of a variety of health concerns as well as some aspects of OBGYN care. From contraception (birth control) counseling — including initiation and management — to certain portions of prenatal care, telehealth offers convenient and accessible ways for women to get the care they need, when they need it.
Increases comfort and convenience
Even if you live near your doctor, virtual care can be more convenient than traditional office visits. Virtual visits provide more flexible scheduling for patients whose schedules conflict with their ability to visit a doctor in-person.
“Telehealth’s main strength is accessibility,” says Dr. Sara Junya, a board-certified OBGYN with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “I find that it often gives our patients more control over their own schedules and is time-efficient.”
For many people, a visit to the doctor’s office means taking time off work or finding child care. Being able to access care from the comfort of home is an advantage for individuals whose busy schedules make it difficult to find the time for in-person appointments.
Dr. Junya says virtual appointments are also a great option for patients who want others to attend a visit with them. “I find that patients who want to make sure a family member or their partner is available for the visit find telehealth especially convenient,” she explains. “It’s easier to coordinate schedules and we have the ability to allow another participant to dial-in.”
Eliminates travel time
It is not uncommon for some patients to cancel or skip appointments due to the inconvenience or expense of traveling to the doctor’s office. “Virtual care options are convenient because you can get the knowledge of your provider’s expertise without needing to take the time and effort to commute,” Dr. Junya says.
Instead of traveling to an appointment, a virtual appointment is only a click or phone call away. The advantage of not having to deal with traffic and saving on gas makes virtual care an appealing alternative. This is especially true for patients in rural areas who might have to travel long distances to see a doctor.
Reduces anxiety or fear of doctors’ offices
Many people experience some degree of fear or anxiety about visiting the doctor or being in a medical environment. Telehealth care may alleviate some of that trepidation by bringing the doctor to you. A virtual appointment is the modern-day version of the house call and allows patients to stay in a familiar, comfortable environment — often their home —while still receiving high-quality care.
For some people, it may be intimidating or embarrassing to seek treatment from an OBGYN or other health care professional. Telehealth care offers patients a sense of discretion when seeking treatment for women’s health and reproductive health services.
“Some health issues that can be diagnosed and treated online would be abnormal uterine bleeding in women under the age of 45 without certain risk factors, contraception counseling and certain portions of prenatal care,” Dr. Junya says.
Beyond its benefits during the pandemic, telehealth has made receiving medical care more accessible and convenient for patients. Though telehealth isn’t right for every visit or every medical condition, it’s a great option to manage your health while still receiving high-quality care.