What To Know About Telehealth for Thyroid Disease

Thyroid disease refers to a wide range of conditions that affect the thyroid, a tiny, butterfly-shaped organ located in the front of your neck. This gland produces hormones that regulate your metabolism. Having a thyroid disease means your thyroid gland is generating too many (hyperthyroidism) or too few hormones (hypothyroidism).

Thyroid disease is very common, with about 20 million people in the United States having some form of thyroid disease.

Thyroid disease is a chronic condition, which requires ongoing management and follow-up with your medical providers. Telehealth is a convenient and safe option for anyone seeking care for thyroid disease. Telehealth refers to conducting medical appointments using telecommunications technologies like videoconferencing and phone calls.

However, telehealth may not always be suitable. It's important to learn what issues can be managed safely through telehealth and what requires an in-person visit.

Women talking with doctor about thyroid disease during telehealth appointment

 damircudic / Getty Images

When To Use Telehealth for Thyroid Disease

A 2020 review evaluated the effectiveness of using telehealth to help treat a person with thyrotoxicosis, a buildup of excess thyroid hormones in the body. The authors said telehealth screenings may be an ideal way to assess and treat patients with thyrotoxicosis who are not able to physically attend a visit with an endocrinologist.

Telehealth and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely reoriented how we live our lives, including seeking out healthcare options. Shelter-in-place guidelines and social distancing have made telehealth appointments a crucial way for people to continue receiving the care they need during the pandemic. Many healthcare providers have readily embraced telehealth and suggested that it can continue to be an indispensable tool moving forward.

The actual diagnosis of thyroid disease and treatment of thyroid disease may involve everything from in-person blood tests to imaging tests and even surgery.

Telehealth may be the best option for you in the following scenarios:

  • Reviewing your health history: Your healthcare provider can ask about your symptoms and changes in your health, and review results of any past exams or tests you may have had during a telehealth appointment.
  • Consulting about an upcoming surgery: Planning for a thyroid surgery can take place virtually. After your surgery, if you have no infections or other complications from the procedure, your healthcare provider may also be able to follow up with you through telehealth.
  • Following up on a past appointment: Your doctor or healthcare provider may schedule a virtual appointment to monitor your continuing symptoms.
  • Not being able to travel for an appointment: People who are pregnant or who cannot readily or safely travel a long distance to see a healthcare provider can take advantage of the flexibility of a telehealth appointment. Preliminary screenings and follow-up appointments can be conducted via telehealth.
  • Refilling your prescriptions: If you need to refill your medications, you can do that through a virtual appointment. Your doctor can send your prescription to a pharmacy near your home, where you can pick up your medications.

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

  • You need a physical exam: A comprehensive physical exam has to be conducted in person at your healthcare provider's office. Your healthcare provider needs to feel your neck for any potential growths or an enlarged thyroid.
  • You need blood tests: Thyroid blood tests require samples to be collected at a healthcare facility. These tests check whether your thyroid gland is functioning correctly and can pinpoint what kind of thyroid disease you may have.
  • You need imaging tests: Your healthcare provider may need to perform a thyroid scan to assess the size of your thyroid and check for nodule growths. An ultrasound test might also be required.
  • Getting a thyroidectomy: Your thyroid may need to be completely or partially removed. Following the surgery, your healthcare provider may want you to come into their office for an in-person assessment.

Benefits and Challenges

Telehealth is still a burgeoning practice in health care. As it is further embraced by both the medical community and people seeking care, expect it to continue to augment traditional in-person care. As with all aspects of health care, you should speak directly with your healthcare provider to determine what course of treatment may be best for you.

There is not much specific research on the effectiveness of telehealth services for people living with thyroid disease. While it's still fairly new, there are still some general trends of how impactful telehealth has been in treating a wide range of conditions, including thyroid disease:

  • Consistent monitoring: This is especially important for people who have thyroid cancer. They can't just have sporadic medical appointments or follow-up appointments for ongoing care. Telehealth technology enables you to have frequent access to your healthcare provider who can make sure you're adhering to your treatments and touch base with you on disease progression or course of treatment in between in-person appointments.
  • Outreach to leading specialists: Thyroid disease encompasses such a broad range of conditions. Having hypothyroidism requires different care and expertise than thyroid cancer. Within thyroid cancer, you could require very specific care and treatment from someone else. Telehealth in many ways has democratized access to some of the nation's and the world's leading specialists. You can reach an expert or a leading researcher who specializes in thyroid disease from the comfort of your home.
  • Cost-effectiveness and expanded access: A 2020 review stated that telehealth offerings during the pandemic have increased access to health services to more people, been cost-effective, and enabled more people to seek medical care.

While telehealth has been a positive development overall for people seeking care, not every insurance provider will cover all telehealth visits. Beyond that, not everyone has access to a reliable internet connection, needed devices like a laptop or tablet, or health insurance. This makes access to this useful tool unequal, filtering out people who cannot easily make the best use of telehealth services.

How to Prepare for a Telehealth Visit for Thyroid Disease

Here are some ways to prepare for a telehealth appointment:

  • Get your technology in order: If you are using videoconferencing technology for your appointment, make sure you are familiar with the platform being used. Have any required log-in credentials on hand, and make sure you downloaded the app or have access to the link your healthcare provider sent you. Also, double check your cameras. If you're using an external video camera, make sure it's working. If you are using your device's built-in camera, test it beforehand to make sure the image and audio are working properly. Always check to see if your device's software is updated to the most recent version.
  • Check with your insurance provider: If you are worried about whether your insurance company will cover your telehealth meeting, make sure you contact them directly or consult their website prior to setting up your virtual meeting.
  • Set up the call beforehand: Find an appropriate setting for your call. Whether video or audio, you want to make sure you are in a quiet room with minimal interruptions. If using videoconferencing for the appointment, find a room with good lighting so you can see your healthcare provider. Also, make sure your WiFi or internet connection is sound in that room.
  • Come with questions: Prepare a list of questions prior to your appointment. If you are concerned about any potential thyroid disease symptoms, bring them up with your doctor or healthcare provider and do some research ahead of time so they can answer any questions you may have about your family or personal health history.

Will Insurance Cover Telehealth for Thyroid Disease?

Insurance coverage for telehealth visits varies from provider to provider. Review what your plan covers before you set up your appointment. If you have questions or concerns about what kind of appointment may be covered, contact an insurance representative before setting up your call. It would also be prudent to review your local government's website to find out if any changes have been made to Medicaid and Medicare telehealth coverage in your state.

What Happens During a Visit?

Here's what you can expect during a telehealth visit for your thyroid disease:

  • Common questions that will come up: As with all appointments, your provider will ask you a range of questions depending on what your concerns are, your past history, and the type of thyroid disease you have. Some possible questions may include: Do you have a family history of thyroid disease? Do you have a medical condition like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus? Have you had treatment or surgery for thyroid disease or cancer? Have you experienced swelling around your neck and thyroid glands? Have you experienced sudden changes in your health like sudden weight loss, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, or changes in vision? Have you been experiencing seizures? Have you experienced hair loss?
  • Keep good notes: You may want to keep a notebook or journal handy to jot down important notes from your telehealth session.
  • Ordering tests and labs: Your healthcare provider may order blood tests or imaging. You may also be asked to come in for a physical exam at some point outside of the telehealth screening.
  • Set up a follow-up appointment: After your telehealth session is complete, your provider will most likely schedule a follow-up appointment. This will most likely involve scheduling an in-person appointment and additional telehealth visits down the line.

A Word From Verywell

Thyroid disease can make a noticeable impact on your life. It's a condition not to take lightly. If you experience sudden changes in your health or notice symptoms that could potentially point to some form of thyroid disease, a telehealth appointment could be the perfect way to answer some of your questions and start a regimen of consistent, continued care under your healthcare provider's watchful eye.

Keep in mind a telehealth appointment for thyroid disease is most likely just one piece of your care. You may be asked to go into your provider's office for in-person screenings, tests, and treatment. Imagine telehealth as a supplement fortifying your overall medical care. It's an accessible way to connect with a broad range of providers and specialists.

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Article Sources
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