What to Know About Telehealth for Meningitis

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Meningitis, a type of inflammation or infection of the protective lining around the brain, usually has a good prognosis. However, it can lead to dangerous complications and requires close medical observation.

In some situations, telehealth can help facilitate the diagnosis and treatment of meningitis, potentially reducing the risk of serious progression and severe health consequences. Telehealth has had a unique role in meningitis care for years. It has become more available as an option for the management of many medical conditions.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people and their doctors have opted for telehealth, even for managing conditions that have not been previously managed this way. While doctors’ offices and hospitals are taking precautions to see patients in person safely, the role of telehealth in meningitis care has expanded with the pandemic.

Telemedicine can help identify meningitis for people who are at risk

Geber86 / Getty Images

When to Use Telehealth for Meningitis 

Sometimes access to specialty health care can be limited, and telehealth can serve to bridge that gap for some patients with meningitis. Certain conditions can predispose to meningitis. If you are at risk, telehealth surveillance can identify early symptoms of the condition so it can be definitively diagnosed and treated before it progresses. 

Monitoring neuropsychological symptoms: Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), other inflammatory diseases, therapeutic brain cancer radiation, and certain medications can predispose to aseptic meningitis, which is inflammation of the meninges without an infection.

The symptoms of aseptic meningitis can be subtle and may progress gradually. If you have one or more risk factors for aseptic meningitis, your doctor might schedule neuropsychological testing at regular intervals via telehealth to identify the problem at an early stage.

If you show signs of meningitis on these tests, your doctor might recommend further testing and treatment in person.

Monitoring for an infection: Certain conditions, including brain cancer, a weak immune system, a ventricular brain shunt, or a recent history of brain surgery, may put you at risk of bacterial, fungal, or severe viral meningitis.

The symptoms of infectious meningitis can be rapidly progressive and could be life threatening. Your doctor may monitor you via telehealth to check for early signs of infectious meningitis if you are at risk. Signs include fatigue, fever, vomiting, changes in consciousness, and seizures. These issues require urgent in-person medical attention. 

Specialist-assisted diagnosis: In some cases, patients cannot see a specialist due to access and distance. Telehealth has been used to help patients get a medical evaluation for meningitis from a specialist, with in-person assistance from a healthcare provider.

In these situations, the specialist has been able to guide the local provider in the examination to facilitate accurate diagnosis and to guide the care plan.

Pathology evaluation: Sometimes examination of tissue biopsy samples or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) may require another opinion that cannot be obtained in person. For example, a serious type of meningitis associated with cancer, meningeal carcinomatosis, requires a biopsy procedure, and the sample tissue might need to be reviewed via telehealth for a definitive diagnosis if it cannot be diagnosed locally.

When to Be Seen in Person

Often, meningitis requires in-person care, which can involve intensive care and/or surgery.

You can see your doctor via telehealth if you have mild symptoms (fatigue, a low-grade fever). But you should promptly be seen in person if you have a high fever, stiff neck, vomiting, vision changes, seizures, confusion, or changes in consciousness. 

In-person care is required for the following aspects of meningitis care:

Benefits and Challenges 

A major benefit in using telehealth as part of meningitis care is the access to specialty consultation that might not be otherwise available locally. Additionally, there is the at-home convenience of getting adequate surveillance frequency for people who are high risk.

For example, for children who have SLE, early diagnosis of aseptic meningitis can result in treatment and prevention of cognitive symptoms that interfere with school and social activities.

Challenges 

Sometimes, meningitis symptoms are subtle, and the condition often requires expert examination for a definitive diagnosis. This can be difficult even when an in-person healthcare provider aids a telehealth visit with a specialist. 

How to Prepare for a Telehealth Visit for Meningitis 

The first step in preparation for your telehealth visit is to ensure that your health insurance payer will approve the cost of your care via telehealth. Telehealth for meningitis is unique in that it often combines seeing a provider in person with a consultation via telehealth.

Will Insurance Cover Telehealth for Meningitis?

Medicare, Medicaid, and most private health insurers provide coverage for some telehealth services. The specifics will depend on your plan and your medical condition. Policies regarding telehealth have been changing, and you will have to check the most updated regulations regarding your plan when scheduling your visit.

Before your visit, it is important to make sure that you have access to the right equipment to communicate with your provider. If you will have a telehealth consultation with another provider present, your visit will likely take place in a medical clinic, and the equipment will be provided.

If you are having your meningitis surveillance for a condition (such as lupus or a past brain tumor), be sure to monitor and keep a record of your body temperature at least daily leading up to your visit. Keep track of any headache symptoms or neck pain, as well as any exacerbating or relieving factors.

Make sure you get any necessary tests that your doctor requests before the visit.

What Happens During the Visit 

You can expect a thorough evaluation and discussion of the plan during your telehealth visit for meningitis:

  • Your doctor will take a detailed medical history and listen to your symptoms. They may also ask specific questions about symptoms. 
  • Your neuropsychological evaluation will include questions about your mood and tests of your cognitive abilities. 
  • You may have a neurological examination. If your visit includes an in-person provider supervised by a specialist, they may perform some parts of the examination, including an eye examination.
  • They may test the function of your ventricular shunt if you have one, or perform special tests if you have problems with dizziness or hearing.
  • Your in-person provider may also do an LP during the telehealth visit or sample fluid from the shunt to be sent to a laboratory for microbial testing. 

Your doctor will review your test results, including blood tests, LP, and imaging, and discuss your diagnosis and treatment plan. You may be instructed to get in-person care for your treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Meningitis is not customarily managed via telehealth, but the screening and consultation for this condition can be done via telehealth.

Meningitis care often involves identification of the infectious organism or confirmation that it isn’t infectious. Because of the potentially severe consequences, in-person care is generally required—sometimes with the assistance of telehealth specialty consultation.

If you or a loved one develops meningitis, rest assured that doctors and hospitals are implementing safety measures to protect you from becoming infected with COVID-19. Do not hesitate or postpone any in-person care that you are advised to get. 

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