E-visits, or electronically conducted visits, refer to medical services that a patient receives via electronic means, such as a videoconferencing call with a health care provider. As technology makes this type of service easier to access for many patients, it may be offered more frequently by health care providers.
Pros and Cons Between E-visits and Office Visits
E-visits, which may be referred to as telehealth or telemedicine, offer new opportunities for receiving health care in a timely and effective way. When circumstances are appropriate for telehealth services, patients can receive care in the comfort of their home or at an office closer to where they live rather than driving long distances for specialist care.
This type of health care works best for medical services that do not require the specialist to examine a patient in-person, so it suits services such as mental health evaluations, diagnostic reviews and follow-ups after in-person examinations have been completed. It can also help bridge the gap between rural areas and health care providers based out of urban centers.
Some patients may not feel comfortable with e-visits, however. The newness of the technology may leave them feeling as though their needs could not be adequately addressed or properly examined. Issues with internet connections or equipment failure can also cause e-visits to be canceled or disrupted mid-session. Privacy concerns are also another reason some patients prefer an in-person office visit instead of receiving care through a telehealth service.
Most outpatient facilities should be able to accommodate the preferences of a patient when it comes to choosing between an e-visit and a traditional office visit. In the case of emergency services that require the input of a specialist who may be in another state or country, an e-visit may be the only option to receive critical care instructions for the rest of a patient’s health care team.
Deciding When to Use E-visits
When given a choice between e-visits or conventional in-office visits, you should base your decision on your own comfort level with the service you prefer and the overall goal of the appointment. If you need your health care provider to perform a physical examination or a new issue has arisen that was not previously addressed in the last in-person appointment, you will need to make an in-person appointment rather than opting for an e-visit.
If you’ve experienced e-visits with a provider and did not feel comfortable using the technology or their e-visit platform was not easy to navigate, choose an in-person visit. The most important factor is making sure you prioritize your health care needs. It may mean a longer wait between appointments with some services, or you may have to drive a further distance to see certain providers.
If you need accommodations for hearing assistance or feel that you cannot understand your health care provider over the phone or videoconferencing software, let the front staff know immediately so that you do not experience a delay or disruption in your care.
Medicare Coverage for E-visits
Coverage rules for e-visits with Medicare benefits may restrict this service to people with certain needs or people who live in certain areas. On its own, Medicare Part B may only provide coverage for e-visits if the patient has a specific diagnosis that cannot be addressed by providers in their area or their diagnosis is a condition that makes travel a health risk. In order for the e-visit to be covered, the patient must be at an approved location to receive the service, such as a skilled nursing facility, hospital or rural health clinic.
Policies that shape Medicare benefits continue to change in response to the growing trends in telehealth services. For example, changes to policy in 2019 allowed patients who may be experiencing symptoms of a stroke were covered for telehealth services whether anywhere they received it. Medicare Advantage plans are also allowed to expand on telehealth services as part of the extra benefits they offer in addition to their Part B outpatient services.