How We Picked the Best Telemedicine Services
For this guide to telemedicine options for medical professionals, we researched more than 20 of the most prominent telemedicine services that market to doctors, hospitals, insurers and other healthcare providers and narrowed that list down to our top 10. When researching these platforms, we looked for specific features and policies to determine our recommendations. The platforms we chose to highlight are simple to set up and easy to use, and they offer technical support to ensure technology doesn’t get in the way of your interaction with a patient. We only included platforms that adhere to federal and state medical statutes, as well as assure patient privacy and confidentiality when working with healthcare providers. And finally, we looked for telemedicine companies that are nationally available and not regional.
While this guide provides information for medical professionals adding telemedicine to their practice, we also have an informational guide to telemedicine for patients looking for medical care.
Best Telemedicine Service for General Care
A check-up via live video chat to a patient at home or in a designated care facility is quick and simple, but still allows you to get a good look at the patient and their condition. In diagnosing a simple ailment, an appointment that might otherwise be an hour-long visit involving several staff members can be reduced to just a few minutes. Patients or assigned caregivers can take biometric measurements with remote devices and upload the data, allowing doctors to further determine a patient’s status and decide if a more in-depth, in-person visit is required.
AMC Health is a telemedicine software that allows you to consult with your patients at their home or any other remote location. This platform includes sophisticated tracking software that’s compatible with nearly any Bluetooth-enabled medical device, so you can monitor a patient’s health from just about anywhere. This solution is ideal if you have patients with chronic illnesses who cannot travel or who live in rural areas where you cannot readily travel.
Best Telemedicine Service for Emergency Care
Telemedicine can be a life-saving tool for emergency crews rushing to save someone. Video and audio devices can be implemented in ambulances, EMT kits and emergency rooms to allow better communication between emergency responders and the hospital, and between surgeons and off-site specialists. Services designed for emergency care, such as swyMed, allow doctors a view into the ambulance as the patient is en route. Doctors can view a patient’s condition early on, prepare for their arrival and instruct ambulance crews on how to triage the patient.
Doctors and surgeons can’t possibly rush to the scene of every emergency with the EMTs in the ambulance. However, the telemedicine platform swyMed can put your hospital’s medical expertise at the scene of an emergency and in the ambulance. When the situation calls for it, doctors, surgeons or other medical staff can be there in the ambulance via the telemedicine service, instructing the EMTs on how to prep the patient for arrival at the hospital.
Best Telemedicine Service for Psychiatric Care or Online Therapy
Telemedicine services designed for mental healthcare allow trained therapists or psychiatrists to quickly and confidentially speak with patients remotely. The added convenience and privacy for prospective patients can allow mental health professionals to expand their clientele while still servicing their regular clients. Teletherapy or telepsychiatry also allows quite a bit of scheduling flexibility for both you and your clients. With services like Talkspace, patients can even text message you through a private app at any time of the day, allowing you to respond at your convenience.
Talkspace is an effective way to expand your therapy practice by building a bigger clientele through teletherapy. Talkspace connects patients to therapists through online chat or even text messaging, breaking down the social stigma of therapy and allowing patients to come to you on their terms. Individuals can sign up for Talkspace, or it can be offered by businesses as a benefit to their employees.
Best Telemedicine Service for Instant Care
Some telemedicine services take advantage of the convenience these platforms and offer almost instant access for patients to live chat with a doctor from their mobile devices. These services pair members with a doctor in their area who can diagnose non-emergency conditions and field health questions. Generally, doctors still operate their own practices, allowing them to see more patients and expand their clientele. With services like Teledoctor, patients can contact you in the moment they need you.
Teladoc is a telemedicine platform designed to be a quick way to connect doctors and patients just through a cellphone. If you’re a general physician interested in increasing your income or want to work more flexible hours, you can contract with Teladoc to offer your services remotely to patients in your area.
Best Telemedicine Service for Dentistry
There are platforms that cater to medical professionals in fields beyond general medical practices. For example, teledentistry allows dentists to expand their reach with remote locations or house calls using a portable intraoral camera to examine teeth over an internet connection. While dentists will always need to conduct in-person appointments for oral operations, telemedicine services like MouthWatch let dentists to reach patients they otherwise couldn’t due to time and geographical restrictions.
MouthWatch is a teledentistry platform that allows you, as a dentist, to interface with patients in remote locations and perform checkups from your office miles away with the help of a special camera, a dental hygienist and an internet connection. MouthWatch consists of an intraoral camera along with software that allows you to capture and share images.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine services allow you to video chat live with patients, so you can physically exam them, field their questions and concerns, and quickly diagnose simple ailments. These platforms have many applications, including helping you reach patients who are unable to travel or live in rural areas. Telemedicine can get you effectively at a patient’s bedside or even virtually in the ambulance during an emergency situation to immediately begin triage. In addition to applications for doctors and hospitals, telemedicine can be used by researchers and pharmaceutical companies for clinical studies, allowing for quicker and more convenient testing on subjects.
Many telemedicine platforms also use remote biometric devices that let you take standard measurements such as weight, blood pressure and glucose levels. You provide these devices to the patient or other on-site caregivers, and they will often relay their measurements directly to you, requiring only simple instruction for the patient, nurses or approved caregivers.
This emerging platform of communication can save patients money and improve your practice or hospital’s bottom line. According to a study by Red Quill Consulting, the average telemedicine general care visit is $100 cheaper for a patient than an in-office appointment. Telemedicine appointments can also reduce your overhead costs, allow you to see more patients and reduce unnecessary readmissions, ultimately saving you money as well.
Finding the Best Telemedicine Service for Your Practice
Telemedicine is a wide market with hundreds of choices covering dozens of different applications and medical fields. The best service for your practice, therefore, will depend on the kind of care you deliver and the types of services you want. Below we’ve called out several of the best options for different kinds of telemedicine uses, including those for general practice healthcare providers, hospitals and select specialists.
Is Telemedicine Right for My Practice?
Before introducing your telemedicine into your practice, you should be aware of how this shift will change your practice and determine if it’s even a right fit for you at all. Telemedicine comes with several benefits that can boost your practice’s efficiency and expand your clientele; however, you will have to decide how invested you will become in this new direction, especially if you plan to also maintain your physical office and in-person appointments.
Telemedicine is a scalable platform that can be as simple as talking with patients over text messages or as expansive as setting up remote offices, each with its own staff. You’ll need to decide how much time and money you will dedicate to telemedicine, while weighing how much time and money it can save you in return. According to a Geisinger Health Plan study, the estimated return of investment was $3.30 for every $1 spent on a telemedicine program.
Whatever you decide, you and your staff should be prepared to go outside your comfort zone, as any method of telemedicine can change your office dynamic. For example, you may need a staff member dedicated to organizing your online appointments, or have a nurse dedicated to fielding online patients’ concerns before handing them off to you. If you have a smaller practice, you may be capable of handling the telemedicine side of things while your staff takes care of in-house patients, but you’ll want to beware not to undertake too much through telemedicine at the expense of your in-person clientele. On the other hand, you may decide to transition to being a full-time virtual doctor.
Telemedicine in its current form is not without complications, and depending on where you are located, it may be impractical for the time being to implement telemedicine. Laws on telemedicine surrounding licensing, insurance reimbursement, malpractice liability, prescribing medications and privacy are not entirely established and vary from state to state.
Medical Licenses & Qualifications
While telemedicine allows you to communicate and examine patients across long distances, it’s important to keep in mind that federal and state health laws still apply on the internet. You must possess a valid license to practice medicine in the state in which you work. When using telemedicine to see a patient across state lines, you must also possess a medical license in the state they’re in.
Any legitimate telemedicine platform will validate yours or your organization’s credentials when you sign up. While this may bar physicians from practicing anywhere but their home state, as multiple medical licenses can be costly, there are some state medical licenses that are accepted in other select states. You can check with your state’s medical board to find out where your license is accepted.
HIPAA & FDA Compliance
All the services we highlighted for this guide are compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the law that guarantees patient’s privacy, as well as with all state medical statutes.
HIPAA is the main reason why telemedicine cannot be performed over simple live chat programs like Skype or FaceTime. Remote interactions between doctor and patient must meet the law’s rigorous requirements, so these services feature not only heavy encryption of conversations, but also secured transfer of a patient’s personal information and healthcare data to an approved database. Skype and FaceTime do not meet these standards, while telemedicine programs are specifically developed to meet them.
Healthcare professionals using telemedicine services are expected to adhere to the same standards of privacy and record-keeping they do with in-person appointments. The devices used to help you remotely monitor and examine patients must be approved by the Federal Drug and Food Administration. Reputable telemedicine companies provide only FDA-approved products, but it ultimately falls to you to make sure you’re practicing medicine with legally certified technology. All the companies listed on this guide to telemedicine are registered by the FDA.
Rules for Prescription Writing
The rules regarding prescribing medication over telemedicine platforms vary from state to state. Some states allow doctors to freely prescribe medication remotely, while others set restrictions on the type of drugs that can be prescribed, namely narcotics and other controlled substances. Some states do not allow remote prescribing at all and an in-person appointment must be scheduled.
Does Insurance Cover Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is an emerging platform with technology constantly changing and improving. While most (but not all) private insurers have some type of coverage for remote care, Medicare and Medicaid plans don’t always follow suit.
At the time of publishing, only 18 states have legislation requiring private insurers to recognize telemedicine for coverage. Despite having laws in less than half of the country, for the most part, private insurers are embracing this new platform and are rolling out insurance plans that include telemedicine services, though not every provider is doing this. Private insurers are seeing the cost saving benefits of telemedicine, which can lead to less expensive trips to the doctor’s office or emergency room. Because of this, many insurers include telemedicine services and memberships as part of their benefits package in hopes of keeping clients healthy.
There are 16 states that require Medicaid coverage of telemedicine, although a majority of these only allow live video chat and nothing beyond that. Certain state medical boards also have exceptions for telemedicine and Medicaid, so it’s advised you check with your local board if you plan on supporting patients on Medicaid.
With Medicare, telemedicine visits can only be conducted for patients living in an approved rural area. The patient must also be at an approved medical facility and not at home. This means geography is an important factor when considering whether to implement telemedicine services for elderly patients on Medicare.
Since insurance can be a tricky obstacle for telemedicine platforms, some allow patients to directly pay you through the software, using major credit cards and sometimes FSA or HSA cards.
What You Need to Get Started With Telemedicine
Telemedicine is implemented in several different ways depending on how you plan on utilizing it. The most common methods entail receiving a quote from the company for a custom system that fits the size and needs of your practice. You’ll be equipped with the remote devices you plan on deploying either to a patient or a remote office, and your computer network will be set up to work with the platform’s software if needed. Depending on the platform, you may need to lease equipment which is proprietary to the platform. With other companies, you can purchase your own equipment so you can use it on any other systems you may switch to in the future.
Services that consist only of software normally charge a monthly or yearly subscription. Some come with a feature that allows your patients or their insurers to pay you directly, but for others you will have to bill patients with an invoice like a normal appointment.
Some services, like Teledoc, work altogether differently; rather than integrating the service into your existing practice, you essentially work for the company as an independent contractor, lending your service to patients the platform connects you to. As a contractor, you will be paid by the company and receive a 1099 form for tax purposes.
It should go without saying that telemedicine requires a strong internet connection to operate. These platforms recommend that you and your patients use broadband-level speeds in order to connect and live chat. Dial-up connections are not going to cut it, so this can be a barrier, especially for the rural areas that many telemedicine doctors are trying to reach.
The best telemedicine platforms require little setup and have equipment that’s easy for both you and your patients to use. The most basic setup for telemedicine will require you to have a computer with a compatible microphone and web camera for video conferencing with patients. To provide patients the best and clearest communication possible, use high-quality microphones and web cameras. Some services provide you with this equipment, as well as give you equipment to provide to your patients for the best care possible. If you are setting up a remote clinic, you’ll want to equip that facility with the same high-quality technology in order to create the best experience.
Depending on the type of care you’re providing, a number of other devices may be necessary, mainly the basic tools used to take biometric readings for general care, such as a stethoscope and scale. These devices are often digital and remotely accessed through the platform’s software, sending the reading directly to you. They are generally offered by the telemedicine company for purchase or rental as part of the service package. Some are proprietary devices made by the telemedicine company; others are made by third-party medical device manufacturers. When purchasing a specialty piece of equipment, make sure it is compatible with other telemedicine services and current enough that it won’t soon be outdated by any new technology that becomes available.
The best telemedicine platforms will train you on how to install this technology for your office and for your patients, or they will professionally install it for you.
It is essential to find a service that offers extensive training on how to work with patients in this new environment. Interacting with patients via live chat can be vastly different than an in-person appointment. A good service will also train you to instruct the patient or caregiver in using the biometric devices to get the essential information you need to make assessments and diagnosis. If you’re unable to convey how to properly use a digital stethoscope, then the measurements can be unreliable.
Can Telemedicine Work for Pediatrics?
While many telemedicine platforms can be applied to general care pediatrics, advocates such as the American Academy of Pediatrics say it can never replace in-person care. While the group praises the benefits of telemedicine’s reach and convenience, they say telepediatrics should be treated differently than its adult counterpart, and that pediatricians should always favor in-person care over live chat. One main concern is that pediatric healthcare for patients can become fragmented via telemedicine, as children could be introduced to multiple doctors instead of having a consistent professional with whom they can build a history.