What to Know About Telehealth for Asthma

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Telehealth is accessing healthcare remotely through the use of technology such as videoconferencing. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, telehealth has been widely used and many more healthcare professionals are offering telehealth visits than ever before.

Asthma is a common respiratory disease affecting millions of people worldwide. Prior to the pandemic studies showed that telehealth can be used effectively to manage asthma and that treatment outcomes are best when more than one type of telehealth is used, particularly telehealth consultation and case management.

Doctor explains inhaler use via telehealth visit

Deepak Sethi / iStock / Getty Images

Telehealth can be an excellent option in certain situations, as well as being cost-effective and convenient. However, when necessary you should not hesitate to seek in-person medical care regardless of the pandemic.

Proper safety precautions have been put in place to protect you and those around you during the pandemic if you need to be seen by a doctor in person. The most important thing is that you consult a healthcare professional to ensure that your needs are met and do not delay proper care.

When to Use Telehealth for Asthma

The most likely reason to use Telehealth since March 2020 is to help curb the spread of COVID-19. However, as technology improves and studies continue to show the benefits of telehealth it may become more common even after the threat of COVID-19 subsides.

It is not always appropriate to use telehealth for your asthma. For example, in the case of an acute asthma attack that you can't control, but for non-emergencies telehealth can be convenient, effective and cost-saving. Here are some appropriate reasons to use telehealth for asthma:

  • You need a refill on your prescriptions.
  • You are due for a routine follow-up appointment.
  • You are experiencing increased symptoms of asthma but they are still controlled.
  • You are experiencing mild side effects of your medications.
  • You have questions about how to use your inhaler, medications, or other equipment properly.

You May Need to Be Seen in Person If...

It is more appropriate to see your healthcare provider in person rather than opting to use telehealth for asthma in the following situations:

  • You are due for pulmonary function tests (PFTs) or other in-person testing.
  • You are experiencing emergent symptoms that aren't responding to your rescue inhaler.

Due to the volume of appointments required to manage asthma, school-based telehealth for the treatment of asthma has been of interest for several years as a means of reducing the number of missed school days among children who have asthma.

A systemic review of available studies done in 2020 suggests some benefits to school-based telehealth for asthma but also concluded that better, higher-quality studies would be necessary before conclusions about school-based telehealth can be made.

A case manager is a nurse or other type of healthcare professional who manages your care by following up with you after appointments and making recommendations such as other specialists you might need to see.

They may also work to identify gaps and facilitate communication between your healthcare team when necessary or coordinate other aspects of your care. Since a case manager is not your direct healthcare provider, this can easily be done through telehealth.

Benefits and Challenges

Benefits of using telehealth to manage your asthma include convenience, reduced travel time, decreased or no travel cost, and in some cases, lower cost for services. You may also reduce your risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19, influenza, and other contagious diseases.

Challenges associated with telehealth are often related to the technology itself and include poor internet connections, low-quality technology, and privacy and security concerns associated with this technology.

Another challenge comes from the inability of your healthcare professional to do a physical exam. This can pose a challenge specific to asthma in that your physician will not be able to listen to your lungs with a stethoscope for wheezing.

How to Prepare for a Telehealth Visit

If you have a current healthcare provider, the first step is to call their office and find out if they are offering telehealth. During this call, make sure you have a pen and paper handy in case you need to write down important information for your appointment, such as the time and date of the appointment and what specific technology will be used.

If you don't have health insurance, you may want to ask about cost and payment options when you set up your appointment. If your current healthcare provider does not provide telehealth, you can ask the office if they know other providers who do.

If you have health insurance, another option is to call your insurer and ask for providers in your area who accept your health insurance. This is also a good opportunity to clarify what your insurance benefits are.

Once you have settled on a provider and set up your appointment, it will likely be necessary to make preparations such as making sure you have an adequate internet connection, downloading any necessary apps, and selecting a good place for your visit. If possible, you will want to have your appointment somewhere quiet with good lighting.

Before your appointment, it is always a good idea to write down any questions you have for your healthcare professional in advance. This helps ensure that you don't forget to discuss anything important during the visit.

If you have questions about your equipment, for example, your spacer or nebulizer, make sure you have that equipment on hand during the visit. If there is anything physical on your body, such as a rash, that your provider will want to make sure you wear appropriate clothing.

Will My Insurance Cover Telehealth for Asthma?

Many private insurance companies have expanded their coverage of telehealth services due to the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple states have moved to urge insurance companies to do so. Some companies have even waved co-pays for virtual visits during the pandemic.

The only way to know your exact coverage, however, is to call your insurance company. The phone number can usually be found on your insurance card.

Medicare and Medicaid have also temporarily expanded coverage of telehealth services during the pandemic.

What Happens During the Visit?

It is common for you to be instructed to log in 10 to 15 minutes before your appointment time to talk to a medical assistant and make sure your connection is working properly. You can expect the medical assistant to ask you questions regarding the nature of your visit, current symptoms, medications, allergies, and health history.

After you are done talking to the medical assistant, you should be connected with your healthcare professional (doctor, nurse practitioner, physician's assistant, etc.). Your provider may ask you some of the same questions the assistant asked you as they try to ascertain your current situation and medical needs.

It is common for practitioners to ask questions related to standardized asthma questionnaires, such as the Asthma Control Test, to screen for uncontrolled asthma. This test asks you to rate your amount of daytime asthma symptoms, nighttime asthma symptoms, use of albuterol, activity limitations, and subjective level of asthma control.

Following adequate discussion, your provider will decide if you need any medications called in. It is a good idea to have your current pharmacy's name, address, and phone number on hand.

If your provider has determined that you need in-person testing, those orders can usually be called to a clinic or hospital. Before exiting your appointment, make sure to find out when your provider would like to see you again and if that appointment should be virtual or in-person.

A Word From Verywell

Asthma is a common condition that can be debilitating and time-consuming. Frequent appointments are often necessary to properly manage your respiratory health.

The good news is that there is no reason to let your health suffer during the COVID-19 pandemic or afterward. You may find that managing your asthma through telehealth reduces the burden on your time and pocketbook.

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