What to Know About Telehealth for Pneumonia

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Pneumonia is a type of lung infection that can range in severity. Symptoms include cough, fever, chills, and trouble breathing. They may be very mild or can be highly severe, requiring hospitalization.

Viruses, fungi, and bacteria can all cause pneumonia, including viruses such as influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).

Telehealth for pneumonia

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If you think you may have symptoms of pneumonia, you may also be worried that you have COVID-19. In this case, you may be concerned about spreading the virus further or coming into contact with others. If your symptoms are not severe, telehealth could be a viable option to speak with your medical team. 

Telehealth enables you to communicate with your healthcare team through video conferencing, text messaging, email, mobile health apps, or specially-designed remote patient monitoring systems. Your medical team can help you clarify your diagnosis and make a treatment plan while minimizing the risk of spreading a virus. 

Telehealth During COVID-19

Telehealth use has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. It enables healthcare professionals to triage a patient, provide advice, and use home patient monitoring systems to check vital statistics such as heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels.

Telehealth can also help minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission due to lessening direct physical contact.

When To Use Telehealth for Pneumonia

It is essential to recognize that pneumonia can be a serious condition. Therefore, telehealth will not always be the best option. However, you can use telehealth if:

  • You only have very mild symptoms and are not experiencing any difficulty breathing.
  • You are not sure if you have a cold, flu, pneumonia, or COVID-19 and want to seek medical advice.
  • You have been diagnosed with pneumonia, and your medical team advised you to use telehealth for regular monitoring.
  • You have been diagnosed with pneumonia and have a general question about your medication or condition that is not urgent.

You May Need To Be Seen in Person if…

  • You are required to take a COVID-19 test.
  • You need to submit a sputum sample.
  • You require a chest X-ray.
  • Your healthcare professional needs to physically examine you (such as listening to your breathing).
  • You need to have your vital observations measured, such as heart rate, blood pressure, or oxygen saturation, and you do not have a home monitoring system.

You should call 911 or go to the emergency room if you are experiencing:

  • Severe trouble breathing 
  • Fatigue due to working hard to breath
  • Feeling faint, dizzy, or light-headed 
  • A very high fever
  • Severe nonstop coughing or wheezing
  • The skin in between the ribs or just above the collar bone is getting sucked in with each breath
  • Severe drowsiness, lethargy, or confusion
  • Chest tightness, heaviness, or pain that spreads to your arms, back, neck, and jaw
  • New onset of blue fingers or lips
  • Coughing up dark brown or bloody mucus

Benefits and Challenges

If you only have mild respiratory symptoms, telehealth can be a viable option to seek advice and a diagnosis from a healthcare professional. 

Most mild respiratory symptoms do not require a trip to the doctor's office, especially if they are viral or caused by an allergen. Using telehealth for mild symptoms like a cough or runny nose can help avoid spreading and risking exposure to germs. 

When using telehealth, a healthcare professional will ask relevant questions to determine if the respiratory problem requires treatment, if you can manage it at home, or if you need to be seen in person. 

However, sometimes it can be challenging to pinpoint a diagnosis of pneumonia. Your medical team might need to examine you or send you for a chest X-ray, which has to be done in person. So, telehealth is not always the right option for pneumonia. 

Studies have shown that you can successfully manage pneumonia via telehealth following an in-person medical appointment or a hospital stay to monitor recovery. Therefore, it may be that you need to see a physician in person initially but can continue your treatment and monitoring via telehealth. 

Your access to telehealth will also depend on your location and insurance coverage. If you are unsure what telehealth options are available, it is best to speak to your family doctor or medical provider. 

How To Prepare for a Telehealth Visit for Pneumonia

If you have booked a telehealth appointment, it is helpful to think about the following:

  • Is your appointment with a doctor, nurse practitioner, or another type of healthcare professional? If you are not sure, and you specifically need to speak to one of your medical team, you can contact them beforehand to find out who the appointment is with. 
  • Will the appointment be over video or audio-only? Do you need to show the medical team something (like a new rash) that requires a video call?
  • Downloading and testing the video or phone call platform before the appointment so that you are comfortable you know how to use it.
  • What information are they likely to ask you? If you suspect pneumonia, the healthcare team is likely to ask you:
  • What your symptoms are
  • When the symptoms started
  • About changes to your breathing
  • If you have any pains in your chest or pain when you are breathing
  • If you are coughing up mucus, and if so, what color it is, how often, and how much
  • Whether you have a fever or chills
  • About changes to your appetite 
  • If you have problems with your activities of daily living
  • If you are staying hydrated
  • If you have been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 or another type of flu/virus
  • If you have something physical to show the physician, such as a rash or skin change, you might want to wear loose clothing that makes it easy to show them your concern

Will Insurance Cover Telehealth for Pneumonia?

Telehealth coverage has expanded due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is now easier to access than previously. However, you will need to speak to your insurance provider to see if they offer telehealth coverage as coverage varies.

Being uninsured might affect telehealth availability, but Medicare and Medicaid offer some telehealth coverage.

What Happens During the Visit

During your telehealth appointment, your healthcare professional will likely ask you a lot of questions. They will want to understand your symptoms and the problems you are having. They may also request to see your chest when you are breathing in and out or a sputum sample if you have one. 

If if you don't understand something during the call, ask your clinician to explain. It helps to take your time, ask questions, and make sure you understand everything your healthcare professional has said. 

At the end of the telehealth appointment, the clinician should explain:

  • Whether you need to appear for in-person tests such as a physical examination, an X-ray, or to provide a sputum sample
  • If medication is to be prescribed (such as antibiotics) as a result of the call and how you collect and take that medication
  • How to follow up on test appointment and results
  • If you can expect to continue using telehealth for future visits

A Word From Verywell

If you have mild respiratory symptoms and are concerned about the spread of COVID-19, telehealth could be a viable option for you to speak to your physician. However, pneumonia can be serious, and telehealth is not always the best option. You may still need to attend an in-person appointment or seek urgent care if you experience severe symptoms. 

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.
  1. The American Lung Association. Pneumonia symptoms and diagnosis.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Causes of pneumonia.

  3. Monaghesh E, Hajizadeh A. The role of telehealth during COVID-19 outbreak: a systematic review based on current evidence. BMC Public Health, 2020;20(1):1193. doi:10.1186/s12889-020-09301-4

  4. Selvaraj S, Davies E, Humphries C, Srinivasan KS, Moudgil H. S63 Telehealth in acute community acquired pneumonia: proof of concept and provisional evaluation of impact on hospital length of stayThorax. 2011;66(Suppl 4):A31-A31.

  5. Telehealth.hss.gov. Telehealth for patients.

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.