More health care is happening outside the doctor’s office

Technology is redefining healthcare, and it’s not just cutting-edge surgical treatments and advances in important routine exams like mammograms. Increasingly, health care is delivered outside of the doctor’s office through virtual care: confidential, personalized care via phone, email, chat or video visits.

Visits that would have meant a trip to your provider or pharmacy can now often be done from home, such as regular visits for a video review for an ongoing condition, follow-up care after a procedure, or getting a medication refilled online and shipped right to your home . For patients for whom travel to the provider may be more of a challenge—older adults, rural and some underserved communities, and people who cannot take time off from work during business hours—virtual care can increase access to health care as whole.

What exactly is virtual care?

“Telehealth” options include a video or phone visit where you meet with a doctor or nurse face-to-face or talk over the phone – just like an in-person visit. Some plans or health care providers like Kaiser Permanente of Washington also offer services such as online chats with health care teams, access to your medical record through a secure portal, reordering medications, viewing test results online and sending messages to your health care team .

For video visits and some other services, you’ll need access to a computer, iPad, or mobile device, but most platforms have simple, easy-to-use instructions that just require you to click a link.

What is virtual care used for?

Preventive care and routine care: Scheduled routine care such as preventive exams and annual exams can take care of anticipated needs and catch problems before you get sick. Virtual care can help you get many scheduled routine care services during your care journey.

Special care services: Whether you’re seeing a specialist for the first time (with a referral if necessary), following up on a past diagnosis, or managing an ongoing condition, many specialists such as pediatrics, dermatology, and physical therapy are often available virtually as well.

Sudden health problems: When a health problem arises that can’t wait for a routine visit, virtual care can help you access care for the unexpected. You can often get answers directly from your care team via email within a day or so, have a video or phone visit with a provider, or speak to an advice line day or night.

Refill prescription: To skip a trip to the pharmacy, you can request a refill and have it mailed directly to you. Or, depending on your plan, you can get your prescription at a community pharmacy or at Kaiser Permanente. If a doctor’s approval is needed, the pharmacist can contact your provider.

Do not use telehealth for urgent or urgent care: If you have an urgent medical or mental health problem, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. For urgent problems, check with your plan or provider for emergency care options.

Many virtual care options are covered at no additional cost by health care plans, but the level of access can vary. Integrated health plans like Kaiser Permanente may have access to your primary provider and their care team, specialists, and a 24/7 virtual care team where you can get care right now without an appointment from a clinician who has access to your health record.

Technology is another tool you can take advantage of to support your health goals and collaborate with your provider team. To learn more about integrating technology into your healthcare, go to

Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care and improve the health of our members and the communities we serve.

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