Telemedicine uses modern telecommunications tech to help medical visits fit into patients’ busy lives. With telemedicine, you can connect to your doctor or care provider over the internet — usually via video call — to discuss your health, concerns, and treatments.
Telemedicine offers any patients a number of benefits, but the unique advantages it offers be especially good for freelancers.
Below, we’ll break down what telemedicine is and why it’s so beneficial for freelancers.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is used to refer to clinical service provided over telecommunications technology — most often, video or phone calls that connect patients and providers.
While it’s only become common in the last few years, telemedicine is nothing new — hospitals have been experimenting with conducting medicine over telecommunications technology (primarily telephones) since the 1950s. Then, the technology was used to transmit medical images, like x-rays and scans, from doctor to doctor.
More recently, technology has been used to put patients in rural areas in touch with doctors who wouldn’t have been able to reach them otherwise.
Modern telemedicine is a much different application of these old principles. The biggest changes in telemedicine have come with the rise of the internet and smartphones, and also new telecommunications tech, like 4G and 5G, which has made communications over wireless networks faster and more reliable than ever.
Over the past few years, as phone network infrastructure has become more robust and internet speeds have improved, telemedicine has become more and more normalized, and many care providers are increasingly offering remote care as an option. Even some major companies from outside of the health care industry — like tech giant Amazon — have started to offer their own telemedicine services.
Because most Americans are already familiar with video calls and internet communication, many patients find telemedicine extremely natural and easy to use. Many Americans have experience with and access to video chat apps. More and more often, phones support video calls. There are more options than ever for patients to connect remotely with medical professionals — which is why, despite the field’s age, telemedicine is growing at such a rapid pace right now.
Available Telemedicine Services
One of the most common forms of telemedicine — and the one that will likely be the most useful for freelancers — is real-time telemedicine. With real-time telemedicine, you’ll use a specialized video call app, designed to be secure and HIPAA-compliant, to communicate with your healthcare provider.
These video call apps are sometimes equipped to transfer medical data or hook into electronic health records so providers can have a better idea of your medical history, current treatments, and symptoms before you even join the call. You can use these features to provide your healthcare provider with information about your health before your scheduled session, which can reduce the amount of time you spend calling your care provider.
This form of telemedicine is most popular for primary care, follow-up visits and to help patients manage chronic conditions that need multiple visits with the same provider over a long period of time. This method will also be useful for patients who travel often and can’t make regular visits to the same provider.
If your primary care provider also uses an e-prescription system, you can talk with a provider, start a treatment plan and have your prescription automatically transferred to the pharmacy without needing to leave home.
The other form of telemedicine that is most useful to freelancers is remote patient monitoring. With remote patient monitoring, when you check out of a clinic or hospital, you’ll bring a device home with you — like a wearable health tracker — that will send back information about your health to doctors. Then, when you follow up, your provider will already have a great deal of information about your condition and how you’re recovering. Also, if your health takes a turn for the worse, you can know that someone is monitoring your health and can send help if necessary.
Telemedicine Benefits for Freelancers
Telemedicine is a great fit for freelancers because it provides the benefits that freelancers need most — scheduling flexibility, convenience, better access to care, and possibly reduced health care costs.
If you live in a rural area or have limited transportation options, telemedicine can help ensure that you still receive care and have the chance to talk to your doctor — without limiting yourself to occasional sessions or feeling time-stressed as a result of less access to your care provider.
For digital nomads — freelancers who travel the world while they work — telemedicine can be a great way to keep in touch with the same provider and avoid the hassle of managing health insurance in other countries or arranging for care as you travel. When you return home, you can follow up with the same provider you’ve been seeing while you were abroad — no need to establish a new relationship with a provider and fill them in on your medical history.
If you take care of a child or elderly family member, you won’t need to find replacement care if you can talk to a care provider from home.
Telemedicine can also be helpful if you need long-term care or have a complex condition that requires a specialist. In both cases, telemedicine can help keep you in regular touch with your doctor and expand the range of specialists you have access to. Depending on where you live, the best or most informed specialist may be hours away. With telemedicine, you often don’t need to make special arrangements to receive the care you need.
Access to telemedicine also generally improves the overall quality and effectiveness of care. Recent studies on telemedicine have shown that patients with remote access to their doctors are less likely to be admitted or re-admitted to the hospital, spend less time in the hospital if they are admitted and are generally more invested in their health.
That means fewer visits to the doctor needed and less time needed at the hospital — and as a result, potential savings, which helps you maintain your financial health by reducing the amount you spend on health care. As a freelancer, you don’t have an employer who is offering you healthcare coverage and you have to foot the bill for all the care you receive. For most freelancers, if you have to see a doctor, you want to get the most out of your visits. Telemedicine can help you with this.
Telemedicine can also provide a great deal of flexibility you might not be able to get out of face-to-face care. When you don’t have to worry about the distance, you have a greater choice of doctors or other medical professionals. Greater choice in care providers can increase the times of the day or session slots available to you — more convenience is always good for freelancers, especially those working unusual schedules that make it difficult to schedule face-to-face appointments.
Because telemedicine sessions are scheduled ahead of time, you’ll often spend less time waiting. You also won’t need to commute to your appointment, so if a session needs to be snap-rescheduled it’s not guaranteed to throw off your schedule.
For most freelancers, it’s not usually too difficult to shift around work to make sure they’re not wasting any time. This isn’t always true if you had to drive to receive care.
Telemedicine can also be a good fit if you’re transitioning from a full-time job to freelance and your schedule is often unpredictable.
The Future of Telemedicine
It’s likely that telemedicine services will become more common and more robust in the future, especially with the development of advanced telecommunications technology — like 5G, which can provide speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G and is expected to roll out across the United States over the next few years.
As telemedicine becomes a more typical offering from health care providers, more major companies from outside of the health industry may follow Amazon’s lead and start using their expertise in telecommunications and internet technology to break into telemedicine.
There are a few risks of telemedicine that might delay this shift — transferring data over the internet through a third-party app may make patient medical data less secure. Diagnosis may also be more difficult or less accurate when a care provider doesn’t have the chance to see a patient in person. For the most part, however, businesses seem willing to take on these risks.
In the future, even more, advanced forms of telemedicine — like telesurgery, where a surgeon operates surgical robotics over an internet connection — may become widely available. Already a few experimental remote surgeries conducted using surgery robots and 5G have been carried out in China and Europe. Freelancers may be able to count on telesurgery being available within the next few years.
How Freelancers Can Benefit From Telemedicine
Telemedicine can be hugely beneficial for freelancers because of the flexibility and convenience it offers. With telemedicine, freelancers can spend less on health care costs, may need fewer visits with care providers and can travel without worrying about how they’ll stay in touch with their providers.
Telemedicine is also a great fit for any freelancer who needs to take care of a child or elderly family member or needs more flexibility when it comes to scheduling or available providers.
Not all practices offer telemedicine yet, but it’s likely that this method of providing care will only become more common in the future — especially as advanced telecommunications technology is launched in the United States.