What to Know About Telehealth for Lyme Disease

Suspecting you or a loved one may have Lyme disease is a stressful experience that requires immediate consultation with a doctor. Fortunately, telehealth services are widely available to help you navigate through the uncertainty of whether you’ve been exposed to a tick carrying the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, if you have been infected, and how to treat the condition before it leads to additional health concerns.

The COVID-19 global health crisis has changed nearly every aspect of everyday life, including by increasing healthcare options such as telehealth for illnesses such as Lyme disease. For example, during the last week of March 2020, compared with the same period in 2019, telehealth visits increased by 154%.

While telehealth services are available for initial symptom consultation and diagnosis, the authorizing of antibiotic prescriptions, and post-treatment follow-ups, there are some considerations to keep in mind to ensure you get the best care possible. These include knowing when it’s appropriate to use telehealth for Lyme disease, how to prepare for your visit, and how to find out if your insurance provider will cover the appointment fees. 

Woman using laptop and having video call with her doctor while sitting at home.

Drazen Zigic / Getty Images

When to Use Telehealth for Lyme Disease

You can use telehealth in any stage of Lyme disease, from early-stage consultation to antibiotic infection treatment and post-treatment follow-up to, if necessary, later-stage symptom support and management. 

Lyme disease can be tricky to diagnose, particularly because many people with Lyme disease have no evidence of a tick bite or a memory of having had one. Early detection and appropriate antibiotic treatment usually leads to a rapid and full recovery, however. This means you can (and should) use telehealth even when you are unsure if you have been exposed to blacklegged, or deer, ticks.

You may want to use telehealth for a suspected tick bite in the following scenarios:

  • You live near or spend time in wooded areas where blacklegged ticks are known to live and are showing symptoms of Lyme disease, including flu-like symptoms (e.g., fever, fatigue, chills), mood changes, and cognitive decline unrelated to another health condition.
  • You have a bull’s-eye patterned rash anywhere on your body that is expanding with no known cause, such as food or environmental allergies.
  • You want to discuss eligibility for a Lyme disease test from a specialist.
  • You have been tested for Lyme disease and your clinician wants to discuss the results.
  • Your symptoms are persisting despite treatment.
  • You suspect you have been misdiagnosed and you want a second opinion regarding the possibility of Lyme disease.

You May Need to Be Seen in Person If…

  • Your doctor wants to perform an antibody test to determine if you've been infected with the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease.
  • You require a second antibody test because the first test was positive or inconclusive.
  • You are experiencing new or worse symptoms.
  • You are feeling worse after being treated for Lyme disease and your doctor requests further testing to determine the underlying cause of symptoms.

Benefits and Challenges 

Telehealth for Lyme disease is particularly useful and has the potential to actually improve patient experience, especially for patients living in rural areas, who are more likely to encounter ticks, or patients in small cities, without access to readily available healthcare options. Telehealth is particularly beneficial for suspected Lyme patients because early treatment of infection can prevent Lyme disease from progressing from a localized area to other parts of your body, possibly infecting your joints, heart, and nervous system. You and your doctor can determine the likelihood you have Lyme disease, the severity of your symptoms, what treatment is needed, and if you should be referred to a specialist.

If your healthcare provider refers you to a specialist, you may be able to access one outside your local area who may still be covered under your health insurance plan. This may make it easier to get a timely appointment. Check with your insurance provider regarding telehealth coverage outside your area.

One of the challenges of using telehealth for Lyme disease is that a physical exam, which is central to making an accurate diagnosis, is not possible. However, research suggests the pandemic has deprioritized the need for a physical exam in cases of suspected Lyme disease. Telehealth with video capability and photo-upload options means skin examinations and documentations of lesions or rashes can take place virtually. 

In many cases, being able to see a specialist via telehealth may prove to be more useful than having an in-person appointment with a primary care physician who may be unfamiliar with Lyme disease. It’s been noted that computer-assisted prescreenings of skin findings can complement even the nonexpert clinician’s ability to determine Lyme diagnosis.

Of course, in cases where a rash or skin lesion is not present or video options are not available, telehealth is still limited in its ability to confirm a diagnosis of Lyme disease and, without a definitive diagnosis, your visit may not be covered by insurance.

How to Prepare for a Telehealth Visit for Lyme Disease

Preparing for your telehealth visit for Lyme disease involves a few considerations. Begin by booking your appointment with a primary care doctor who can later refer you to a specialist, if necessary. 

Preparations include:

  • Checking with your insurance provider about coverage
  • Letting the doctor know if you have a rash and asking if the appointment will be by video or phone
  • Asking your doctor in advance whether you need to sign consent forms, take photos of your rash, and send them to the office, or if everything will be handled over the video call
  • Jotting down a list of your symptoms (such as rash, fever, and chills), their duration, and their severity
  • Making another, thorough list of other conditions or lifestyle factors that could be contributing to your symptoms, such as having arthritis, as arthritis can mimic symptoms of Lyme arthritis, which occurs when Lyme disease bacteria reach the joints
  • Compiling a list of questions to ask during your appointment, including any specifics about antibiotic treatment, medication contraindications, and whether you’ll need a follow-up appointment
  • Finding a spot for your telehealth appointment that has good lighting and will be quiet and free from distraction
  • Downloading and testing the video or phone call platform the provider uses, if applicable
  • Reserving use of a public computer, if necessary

Will Insurance Cover Telehealth for Lyme Disease?

Insurance providers have their own set of criteria for what is and is not eligible for coverage regarding telehealth for Lyme disease. The most accurate information is always that which comes directly from your provider’s website or call line. That said, coverage may be dependent on receiving a diagnosis, and physical evidence, such as a rash, improves your chances of getting a Lyme disease diagnosis. Be sure to ask if a physician referral is required by your health insurance plan and what your copay will be for a telehealth visit.

What Happens During the Visit? 

You can expect your telehealth visit to be similar to an in-person visit. Depending on your symptoms, the visit may last anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes. During this time, the doctor will ask you questions to get a better understanding of whether Lyme disease is causing your symptoms and if you need blood work performed.

Common questions include:

  • Do you have a tick bite? If yes, the doctor will ask follow-up questions, including if you removed the tick and if it was removed entirely, what it looked like, and the geographic location where the bite occurred. This can help determine tick species and the likelihood of an infection, as some areas are prone to ticks that carry Lyme disease. 
  • Do you have a rash? If so, you will be asked to show evidence of it, either by a photo or on camera.
  • What symptoms are you experiencing, and for how long have they been occurring?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • What is your full medical history?

The result of your appointment largely depends on the presence or absence of a rash, current or past symptoms, and whether tick exposure was likely. In cases where your doctor suspects early-stage Lyme disease, you will likely be prescribed antibiotics.

In some cases, you may be asked to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for symptom management. When your doctor needs further evidence to make a confident diagnosis, you may be referred to a specialist and to a lab to have blood work done. You can expect a telehealth follow-up after test results have been sent to your doctor or to discuss your antibiotic treatment after its completion. 

A Word From Verywell

The best way to treat Lyme disease is through early diagnosis, and telehealth can help with that because it offers greater access to doctors than traditional methods. Making the appropriate preparations before your appointment will help ensure you have a successful telehealth visit and, in turn, effective Lyme disease management. Ask a family member or friend to be with you on the call if you feel scared and need support during your appointment.

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5 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.
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