Telehealth for the Flu: Is This Effective?

The COVID-19 pandemic had catastrophic global consequences. However, we learned to use new technologies like mRNA vaccinations and witnessed the flourishing use of telehealth. A person who may have an infectious disease, such as the flu, which spreads quickly, risks infecting others just by leaving their home. While in-person visits with healthcare providers are still the best option medically, virtual visits lessen the risk of spreading disease.

Key takeaways:

Thus, if you suspect you have the flu or other respiratory illness, scheduling a virtual appointment with a medical professional lets you protect others while still receiving the care you need.

Telehealth for the flu-like symptoms

Telehealth refers to providing health care services via means other than in-person. These methods include phone calls, video conference platforms, electronic communications, and even remote monitoring devices that permit clinicians to monitor health parameters in real-time. Depending on the health system, telemedicine and telehealth can refer to the same or different things. They are frequently used synonymously.

Despite the recognized benefits of telehealth visits, they aren’t for every situation. Many medical evaluations still require in-person appointments, such as:

  • Heart and lung evaluations. There is no substitute for a doctor listening to your heart and lungs with a stethoscope (auscultation).
  • Ear evaluations. An otoscopic exam, in which the doctor looks inside your ears, can only be performed in person.

Thus, sometimes people schedule a video visit only to be told they still have to come in person.

Pros and cons of telehealth

There are pros and cons to both in-person evaluations and virtual ones.

Pros

Telehealth visits offer some benefits.

  • Convenience. Telehealth consultations can be done in the privacy of one's home. Also, you can get care in a timely fashion.
  • Infectious disease control. Virtual care prevents exposing staff members, patients, and others to potentially infectious diseases.
  • Less anxiety and stress are associated with doctor’s visits. Conducting appointments via telehealth methods lessens these emotions for many.
  • Improve access to care. Permits more people to be seen per day.
  • Better access to healthcare. People are less likely to delay care when telehealth visits are a viable option. Patients may seek and receive care faster than if they wait for in-patient services.
  • Cost-effective. Telehealth consultations free up the emergency rooms and urgent care centers to prioritize true emergencies and prevent unnecessary exposures to infectious diseases.

Lastly, telehealth makes care accessible to those who would otherwise have to travel great distances or wait months for in-person visits in areas with a shortage of medical professionals. Patient access is restricted by those without access to transportation, living in remote locations, having a low ratio of healthcare professionals to residents, and other similar circumstances. Telehealth offers a way around these shortcomings.

Cons

However, while there are many advantages to telehealth services, they aren’t always the right solution for every situation or every individual. The disadvantages of telehealth include:

  • Limits access to certain populations. Those who lack internet access and/or a computer, smartphone, or other similar devices may be unable to participate in their healthcare system’s telehealth services.
  • Rely on technology. If technological problems like the internet go down or the computer isn’t working, the appointment cannot occur.
  • Legal and regulatory restrictions. Medicare, Medicaid, and state laws and rules play a role in what is permissible with telehealth and what isn’t, and the line isn’t always clear-cut.
  • Licensing restrictions. Physicians and similar practitioners are licensed for individual states to practice medicine. Telehealth practices must keep this in mind.
  • Increased risk of privacy loss and security threats. Data breaches, computer hackers, and other methods may disrupt service, obtain medical information, and even breach the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), which protects a person’s medical information.
  • Misdiagnosis. A provider must rely on what they are told. Without physical exams, one can only go by what you tell them.
  • Miscommunication or lack of information. The success of a telehealth visit relies solely on the individual seeking care’s ability to tell the medical care provider accurately and honestly what is going on. Language barriers, incomplete communication, and lack of non-verbal cues may play a role.
  • Telehealth standard of care is still not fully defined. Errors, privacy breaches, omissions, and even malpractice are always possible.

Symptoms of the flu

Suppose you think you may have the flu (or COVID-19) because you have whole-body aches, a sore throat, a fever, and/or a cough. If that is the case, you might think about scheduling a telehealth appointment with your doctor.

More and more, many healthcare systems have a dedicated staff member available for same-day visits, same-day telehealth appointments, or at least to field calls about potential respiratory infections.

Symptoms of respiratory conditions such as the flu include:

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Sinus changes
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Not everyone infected with the flu will have a fever, nor does it require the presence of every symptom. Therefore, the absence of any one of these symptoms does not rule out the flu.

Many people get over the flu in a few days to about a week without medical assistance. On the other hand, ear or sinus infections, pneumonia, or inflammation related to the heart, brain, or muscles are possible complications. This can exacerbate other conditions for those who already have underlying medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or asthma. Some people may become so ill that they could die.

Note
If you are unsure whether you require medical attention, particularly if you have underlying health issues, get in touch with your healthcare provider's office to find out if a telehealth visit is right for you.

Flu-like symptoms? Try telehealth

If you exhibit symptoms that are consistent with the flu, you should think about scheduling a virtual visit with your doctor. While nothing replaces an in-person visit with a hands-on evaluation, telehealth visits protect the staff and other patients from an often contagious illness.

To manage your symptoms, your doctor might suggest taking Tylenol, relaxing, taking a few days off from work or school, and drinking plenty of water. Most viral illnesses only require symptomatic treatment, clearing up on their own. While many people simply need to take it easy for a few days, others may also need an antiviral medication based on their overall health risk. Some people may be advised to get tested (for COVID or the flu, for example).

Regardless of the recommendations received, choosing telehealth for the flu and other respiratory diseases, including COVID-19, may effectively provide improved healthcare access in a timely and safe manner.

How telehealth for the flu-like symptoms can be effective

Using telehealth for flu-like symptoms can be an effective method to help address health needs. Despite certain drawbacks, such as the absence of in-person patient interaction, the inability to listen to a person's chest or heart, and the requirement for technological use, telehealth consultations have benefits. Telehealth visits facilitate early care, save time, do not call for special clothing or equipment, and give patients the treatment they require more quickly.

If a practitioner is concerned, they might tell you to visit the office, an urgent care facility, or an emergency room. However, if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, such as chills, aches and pains, fever, coughing, congestion, or fever, think about scheduling a telehealth consultation with your clinician to get the assistance you need right away.

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