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Are you ready for a virtual doctor visit?

A doctor video chatting on a laptop screen.

The doctor will see you now.Nov. 7, 2019—Starting in 2020, some Medicare Advantage plans will begin to expand their coverage of telehealth visits to those made from any location, including home.

That could be great news for many seniors. Video-based doctor visits can save time and money. They can improve access to care for people who live in rural areas, can't leave home or travel a lot. And they can be a good solution for family caregivers or people in need of after-hours care.

But according to a recent National Poll on Healthy Aging, more than 80% of adults over 50 had some concerns about seeing a doctor virtually, rather than in person.

What is telehealth?

A telehealth visit involves video chatting with a healthcare provider over a smartphone or computer. Not all providers or health plans offer this. But many are now investing in systems that would allow them to provide virtual visits.

Telehealth providers can diagnose conditions and write prescriptions—just like an in-person doctor. But they can't do hands-on exams or tests.

Tentative interest

Researchers polled a national sample of more than 2,250 adults ages 50 to 80. Nearly half of those surveyed said they'd be interested in trying a virtual visit with their primary care provider, but fewer would be willing to see a specialist or mental health provider online. So what's holding people back?

  • 71% found it worrisome that doctors couldn't do a physical exam in a virtual visit.
  • 68% worried that the quality of care would suffer.
  • 47% said they worried about getting the technology to work.
  • Nearly half had privacy concerns.

But there were circumstances under which many said they'd be willing to give it a try—for instance, if they got sick while traveling or needed follow-up from a previous in-person visit.

What's next?

More than half of those surveyed said they didn't know if their doctors offered telehealth services.

If you're interested in trying telehealth, the first step is to ask if your doctor or health plan offers it. Even if they don't now, they may be thinking about it in the near future. Ask your doctor when telehealth might be appropriate for you—and what you can do to make sure you get the best care from a virtual provider.

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