What to Know About Telehealth for COPD

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long-term lung disease that affects your breathing and can make everyday life challenging. People with COPD are at high risk for severe outcomes from viral respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19.

If you are concerned about your risk of contracting the virus that leads to COVID-19, you may be taking extra precautions to stay at home and stay safe during the pandemic. However, at some point, you might need to see a healthcare provider to manage your COPD or another medical problem. 

Benefits of Telehealth for COPD Patients

Verywell / Joules Garcia

To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, many medical facilities are taking precautions when seeing patients in person. However, if you're more comfortable staying home, telehealth is now a viable option to still visit with your healthcare provider. 

Telehealth allows you to use digital technology to communicate with your healthcare provider or healthcare team. You can access telehealth through several digital methods such as video conferencing, text messages, mobile health apps, and specially designed remote patient-monitoring systems.

Telehealth During the Pandemic

There has been an upsurge in telehealth due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If your health concern is not urgent and you feel more comfortable staying in your own home, telehealth is a successful and effective way to communicate with your healthcare provider.

When to Use Telehealth for COPD

You can use telehealth to speak to your healthcare provider, nurse, or healthcare professional for nonurgent concerns about your COPD. For example, telehealth can be used to:

  • Discuss your COPD self-management plan and ask questions about anything you are unsure of
  • Assess, review, and receive feedback on your inhaler technique to ensure you are using your inhaled medication effectively 
  • Ask questions about COPD medication, including when and how to take it 
  • Talk through non-pharmacological treatments to manage COPD, such as breathing techniques, airway clearance, and relaxation techniques 
  • Describe your symptoms to your provider if you are experiencing a mild COPD exacerbation (flare-up) or think you are starting one, at which time your provider can advise you on managing the flare-up at home or having you see a healthcare provider in person or seek further medical care
  • Monitor a mild exacerbation of COPD at home to ensure symptoms are improving, not worsening 

You May Need to Be Seen in Person If…

  • You need to submit a sputum sample or blood sample.
  • You have new or increased swelling in your legs.
  • Your healthcare professional needs to physically examine you (such as listening to your breathing or your heart).
  • You need to have your vital signs measured (heart rate, blood pressure, or oxygen saturation) and cannot do so at home.
  • You are having difficulty managing your inhaled medication due to dexterity issues and need to explore suitable alternatives.

You should call 911 or go to the emergency room if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe shortness of breath and inability to form a sentence
  • New onset of confusion or forgetfulness
  • Drowsiness or difficulty rousing
  • Chest tightness, heaviness, or pain that spreads to your arms, back, neck, and jaw
  • New onset of blue fingers or lips
  • Coughing up more than a teaspoon of blood
  • Inability to cope at home due to an exacerbation of COPD

Benefits and Challenges

COPD can be difficult to manage. Sometimes, it's hard to know when symptoms are due to an exacerbation, disease progression, an external factor, or another condition. This is one reason telehealth can be a challenge when managing COPD. In some cases, a medical professional will need to see you in person for a thorough physical assessment. 

However, remote patient-monitoring systems can be used to enable vital signs to be measured at home by a telehealth system. These systems can be incredibly useful in remote places where it isn't easy to access health care or for a healthcare professional to perform a home visit.

Patient monitoring systems may include an activity monitor that can also record heart rate and sleep quality and environmental monitors that record home air quality.

The success of remote patient-monitoring systems varies and relies on factors such as the patient's age, education, experience using technological devices, and home environment, as well as the patient's speech, cognitive, motor, and visual abilities or deficits. Research investigating the benefit of these systems shows that the outcomes are similar to "usual" care.

Telehealth works well in conjunction with conventional medical care. It can be a helpful way to visit with a medical professional when:

  • You have difficulty physically attending an in-person appointment.
  • You are concerned about exposure to viruses like the flu or COVID-19.
  • An in-person appointment is not required.
  • You have questions for your medical team but do not have time to attend an appointment in person.
  • You have been unwell and would feel reassured by speaking to a healthcare professional. 
  • You require advice on how to take your medication.
  • You need information about COPD but are not unwell.

Telehealth options vary depending on where you live, your insurance coverage, and your access to health care. If you are unsure what telehealth options you have available to you, ask your medical and insurance providers. 

How to Prepare for a Telehealth Visit for COPD

The first step is to ascertain whether your healthcare professional offers telehealth options. Talk to your current medical provider and ask:

  • Do you offer telehealth?
  • What telehealth options do you offer (e.g., video call, phone call, email, text, remote monitoring)? 
  • What types of care can I get using telehealth? Can I speak to any of the medical team, such as a healthcare provider, nurse, therapist, or pharmacist?
  • How do I schedule a telehealth visit?

If your current provider does not offer telehealth and you have medical insurance, contact your insurance provider for advice. Many companies will help you find medical practices that provide virtual medical visits or Web- or app-based telehealth medical companies covered by your plan. 

If you do not have health insurance or your medical provider does not provide telehealth, your local public health center might provide telehealth options.

When booking a telehealth appointment, clarify which provider you will be seeing, such as a nurse, healthcare provider, or therapist. Think about the concern you have and the questions they may ask you about that concern. For example, with regards to COPD, the clinician may ask:

  • When did your symptoms start?
  • Has your sputum changed? Is it a different color, consistency, or amount than usual?
  • Is your breathing different than usual? Are you wheezing?
  • Do you have a cough? Is it wet or dry? Are you coughing up sputum or blood?
  • Are you able to eat and drink?
  • How often are you taking your inhaled medication?
  • Do you have any other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, chest pain, dizziness, etc.?

These are just a few examples, but knowing what may be asked can help you prepare for and get the most out of your telehealth appointment. 

The clinician may also ask to see what inhaled medication you are taking. You may even be asked to demonstrate using your inhaler to show that you are taking it correctly. Therefore, it is handy to have it next to you during the call. If you are taking any other medications, have a list of names and dosages within reach.

If your medical provider uses a specific mobile app or video platform, download and test it before your appointment. Find a private, quiet location to carry out the call in an area with a strong phone or Internet signal.

Will Insurance Cover Telehealth for COPD?

Insurance coverage varies, and being uninsured might affect telehealth availability. Many states have laws that require private insurers to reimburse healthcare providers for telehealth services. Medicare and Medicaid also offer some telehealth coverage.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government, Medicaid programs, and private insurers have expanded telehealth coverage. You can find out more on the Telehealth.HHS.gov website.

What Happens During the Visit?

At the beginning of the telehealth visit, you may interact with a nurse or medical assistant to get consent for telehealth care and answer questions on your health history and symptoms before meeting with your healthcare professional.

How your clinician conducts the telehealth visit will very much depend on the reason for your call. However, they will ask you a variety of questions to help better understand your concerns and symptoms.

To get an overview of physical symptoms, the medical provider will watch you as you breathe and may ask you to do things like cough or show your mouth or fingertips to observe the color. They will guide you through the visit and examination step by step. 

If you don't understand something during the telehealth call, ask your clinician to explain or discuss the concern further.

At the end of the call, the medical professional should explain the next steps. These might include:

  • If a medication is to be prescribed or refilled
  • What in-person tests are requested
  • How to follow up on test results
  • Whether you need to make an in-person appointment
  • If you can expect to continue using telehealth for future visits

A Word From Verywell

Telehealth for COPD can be a valuable tool to help manage everyday symptoms and struggles. It may be an option to consider if you are not able to attend an in-person appointment or need nonurgent advice about your condition.

It is critical to remember to ask plenty of questions. You should leave your telehealth visit feeling fully informed.

However, COPD symptoms and their severity can change quickly, and telehealth is not always the safest choice. If you are experiencing chest pain, tightness, or heaviness, or your breathing is so bad you can't form a sentence, seek emergency medical attention. 

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with certain medical conditions. 

  2. Goldstein R, O'Hoski S. Telemedicine in COPD. Chest. 2014;145(5):945-949. doi:10.1378/chest.13-1656

  3. Telehealth.HHS.gov. Billing for telehealth during COVID-19.

Additional Reading

By Helen Massy
Helen Massy, BSc, is a freelance medical and health writer with over a decade of experience working in the UK National Health Service as a physiotherapist and clinical specialist for respiratory disease.