It seems to be the current healthcare question on everyone’s mind: what benefits can telehealth offer, and in what cases is in-person care better? If you’re looking to compare telemedicine vs. in-person visits, you’re in the right place. This guide will lay out the differences between the two forms of healthcare, when to choose either option, and if telehealth can truly compare to an in-person visit.
Important Differences Between Telehealth and In-Person Care
One of the most significant differences between telehealth and in-person visits is how convenient they are for you, the patient.
Telehealth allows you to receive care no matter where you are. You can be on vacation visiting family in another town and still meet with a doctor just as easily as if you were in your hometown visiting your general practitioner.
On top of that, with telehealth, you don’t have to worry about transportation to the doctor’s office for your appointment because you can meet with your doctor from the comfort of your house. For those who struggle with transportation, or for those so sick that leaving the house seems immensely unappealing, telehealth and its convenience are highly attractive.
For individuals in rural areas where a doctor’s office is a long trip away, telehealth also offers a solution that does not require giving up as much of the day for travel.
As expected, there are limitations on what can be done via telehealth. It’s not possible for a doctor to do a complete physical examination through a screen, so in-person visits are the clear winner for cases where this is necessary.
In addition, if you need any care that requires the doctor to be there, such as receiving a splint or a strep test, in-person visits are necessary so that the doctor can complete these activities.
That’s not to say that doctors cannot do anything via a telehealth visit, but there are greater limitations in terms of what they can do. However, the doctor can still listen to what is bothering you, see any physical symptoms (e.g., cuts, bruises, etc.), and prescribe medication if needed.
The primary reason for the massive boom in telehealth was the initial desire to limit the spread of coronavirus, and that benefit still stands as a considerable advantage of telemedicine.
In addition to limiting the spread of coronavirus, scheduling telehealth visits also ensures that you do not spread whatever illness you may have to other patients and medical personnel, while also ensuring that you do not catch anything. This is an excellent option for those who think they may have a cold or the flu, other highly contagious illnesses.
While we currently live in a technology-reliant society, that doesn’t mean that everyone feels comfortable using technology for a doctor’s appointment. In-person visits do not require the use of any technology and are a much more familiar scenario, which may be more appealing to some individuals.
Telemedicine vs. In-Person Visit: When to Choose Which?
There are pros and cons for both telehealth and in-person visits, so how do you choose when to use each service? The biggest indicator is what brings you to need a doctor and if it is something that requires an in-person visit.
Another deciding factor is how quickly you need to see a doctor. Telehealth services can often let you meet with a doctor within the same day, sometimes even within 15 minutes. If your in-person visit would take a considerable amount of time to schedule, telehealth may be more appealing.
Those who especially benefit from telehealth include:
- those who live in rural areas with limited healthcare options
- those who need a specialist, but there is not one nearby
- caregivers for children or other family members
- those with limited physical mobility
The DrHouse app offers a way to schedule both types of appointments, so no matter what you need, you only have to go to one app to set it up.
Is Telehealth as Good as In-Person?
As far as the care you receive during a telehealth visit, it is the same as an in-person visit. However, it is found that doctors spend more time with their patients during telehealth visits, which is likely why many patients feel as though their concerns are better met during telehealth visits.
In addition, a 2019 survey on telehealth vs. in-person visits found that 75.2% of participants felt that telehealth was as good or better than in-person visits.
Is Telehealth Better Than an Office Visit?
Which service is better will entirely depend on the need for the visit. If you need to receive a flu test or have a possible broken arm checked out, then in-person visits would be better. However, when it comes to visits that can be completed without a physical exam, which is the case for many doctor’s visits, telehealth will likely be the better choice because of its convenience.
When it comes to which option is easier to fit into a busy schedule, telehealth is clearly the better option, so as long as what you need can be completed via telehealth, it is the better choice.
Do Patients Prefer Telehealth?
The preference for telehealth hinges primarily on each patient’s preferences and needs, but overall, the satisfaction with telehealth is very high. Skepticism may be high when first giving it a try, but many patients who have tried telehealth now prefer it to in-person visits due to the many benefits telehealth offers.
As for how well received by the doctor patients feel, a 2017 survey found that those who saw a doctor in-person felt as though their concerns were resolved 64% of the time, and these numbers jump to 85% for those who used telehealth services.
Telehealth vs. In-Person Visit Cost
The cost of a telehealth vs. in-person visit varies based on your insurance, but on average, a telehealth visit costs $79 while an in-person visit costs $146.
In addition to the standard cost of the visit, there are other costs to consider for both forms of care, namely, costs that telehealth does not require.
When you have to go to an in-person visit, you may have to pay for gas, parking, tolls, or even public transportation. In addition, you may even be missing out on wages from having to take time off work. For those with children, childcare might be something you have to pay for the duration of the appointment.
In comparison, the convenience of telehealth means that you do not have to pay any fees related to transportation because you do not have to go anywhere for your appointment. In addition, the flexibility offered by telehealth means you can have an appointment at a time that works for your schedule, working around your work schedule and the schedule of anyone else you care for.
How Does Telemedicine Provide Quality Care Compared to In-Person Care?
During a telemedicine visit, the care you receive is the same level of care you receive when in person. Your doctor will still take the time to listen to what is bothering you and talk through potential solutions. In addition, if a prescription is needed, you can still have it written during a telemedicine visit.
The only difference between in-person care and telemedicine, is that telemedicine visits do not offer a way for doctors to perform complete physical exams.
Try a Telemedicine App
For those interested in telehealth visits, one of the best ways to handle these meetings is through a telemedicine app, such as DrHouse. With these apps, you can do everything related to your appointment from the app, including requesting an appointment and meeting with the doctor. In addition, with DrHouse you can meet with a doctor in as little as 15 minutes, meaning you can quickly receive the care you need.
For those who need an in-person visit or aren’t quite swayed to try telemedicine, DrHouse also offers in-person, same-day visits which can be scheduled through the app, allowing you to still experience the benefit of quick service, but at a location that suits your needs.
When it comes to healthcare, there are two options for doctor’s appointments: telehealth and in-person meetings. Both of these options offer advantages in different scenarios, making it difficult to choose the best one for your needs.
The benefits of telehealth are numerous, with patients enjoying how convenient it is and the extra protection it offers them from contagious illnesses. In comparison, in-person visits are best for those who struggle with technology or require a complete physical examination.
Cost-wise, telehealth visits are typically cheaper than in-person, and they also save you from paying for gas, parking, childcare, and other fees.
Patients are overwhelmingly pleased by online doctor and telehealth services, and many feel it is as good as or better than in-person visits. For those interested in giving telemedicine a try, apps such as DrHouse offer a way to request telehealth visits within 15 minutes, and those who need an in-person visit can also schedule a same-day visit.
- Telehealth Index: 2017 Consumer Survey (2017). http://go.americanwell.com/rs/335-QLG-882/images/American_Well_Telehealth_Index_2017_Consumer_Survey.pdf
- Karen Donelan, M. (2019). Patient and Clinician Experiences With Telehealth for Patient Follow-up Care. https://www.ajmc.com/view/patient-and-clinician-experiences-with-telehealth-for-patient-followup-care
- Can’t see your doctor in person? Take advantage of your telemedicine options. (2020). https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/06/why-you-should-take-advantage-of-your-telemedicine-options.html
- Telemedicine or In-Person Visit? Pros and Cons. (2020). https://californiahealthline.org/news/telemedicine-or-in-person-visit-pros-and-cons/