When Flu Season Strikes; Telehealth Responds

The U.S. flu season is off to its earliest start in about 15 years. And while in latest estimates, the CDC reports upwards of 1.7 million flu cases, 16,000 hospitalizations, and 900 flu-related deaths nationally so far this year, you don’t have to panic yet. There’s good news for those feeling under the weather; telehealth can be used to quickly diagnose and treat patients with the flu.

As someone who has been treating patients virtually for more than eight years, I’ve seen firsthand how telehealth can offer patients a convenient option for quality care, which can be especially useful for people who are feeling like they just can’t get out of bed – a common sentiment of flu patients. With this year’s flu season expected to be severe, yet highly dynamic and unpredictable, it’s important to know as much as you can about the flu and your health care options. Here are some of my tips and information on how telehealth can help:

Know the Symptoms

Many people often ask, what’s the difference between a cold and the flu and how can I tell? The biggest difference is the onset. With a cold you may have symptoms that creep up on you – perhaps it starts with a runny nose or a sore throat. With the flu you typically feel healthy one minute and very sick the next. Flu patients will also have more severe symptoms than those with just a cold. When you have the flu, you can expect to be down for the count for at least a few days if not a week. Whereas, those with a cold can sometimes muster up the strength to get to work. These are some of the signs I look out for when diagnosing patients with the flu.

Get Treated Fast

The CDC recommends taking a retro-viral as the most effective course of treatment for the flu, however this medicine needs to be taken within 48 hours of initial symptoms. Therefore, it’s important to get in to see a doctor as soon as you start feeling sick. Oftentimes, especially during a busy flu season, getting an in-person appointment with your doctor on short notice is not possible. This is another reason why scheduling a virtual visit, for which the wait time is typically just a matter of minutes, is such a good option.

Why Go Virtual

Seeing a doctor virtually for the flu is more-or-less exactly like seeing a doctor in-person, only it’s much more convenient and can be better for you as well as other patients. In addition to enabling you to get treated quickly, telehealth allows you to stay home and rest while getting seen by a doctor. When you don’t feel well, oftentimes rest is a major component of what’s needed to feel better. The flu is also highly contagious, especially at the start when it’s most important to see a doctor. If you have the flu, seeing a doctor virtually helps prevent you from getting others sick while in a doctors’ waiting room. If you don’t have the flu, staying home minimizes your risk of exposure from others.

Prepare Today

I recommend preparing for the flu when you’re healthy. Now’s the time to go out to the pharmacy to get ibuprofen, tissues, hydrating liquids and all your flu supplies. Washing your hands frequently is another good method to prevent against the flu, however the best way to prepare is by getting a flu shot. And it’s not too late. It typically takes about two weeks from the time of the shot for your body to develop the antibodies needed to fight against the flu. That means, if you get a shot now, you’ll likely be protected by Christmas! While it’s yet to be determined exactly how effective this year’s flu shot will be, the shot is still the best way to prevent the flu and can also help minimize the severity of the illness should you get sick.

At the end of the day, know your options. For many patients, a telehealth visit is a covered benefit under your health plan and hundreds of hospitals and health systems offer patients the ability to see a doctor virtually using their platform. In addition to providing telehealth solutions to these health plans and health systems, we also have our Amwell app for patients to use. Visit www.amwell.com to learn more.