Imagine sitting at home with a medical problem. You ponder calling your doctor for an appointment, but you don’t feel well enough to leave the house.

Instead, you power up your computer or reach for your tablet or smartphone. Within a few taps or clicks, you’re looking at a live video image of your doctor and speaking directly with him.

Welcome to the world of telemedicine. This is not a vision of the future a few years hence. I use it right now in my practice. This technology has been used for several years to provide specialist access to rural and remote clinics all over the U.S., including Maine. Emergency departments use telemedicine as well in less-than-acute cases. This audiovisual capability allows health providers to observe patients’ signs of illness and overall demeanor and to get an overview of how sick the patient is.

With a live video encounter, my patients feel much more connected than with just a phone conversation. I can see their faces, read their body language and respond to changes that otherwise may be left unaddressed, all while having the full support of my office staff to coordinate additional testing, referrals and treatments.

Imagine a typical telemedicine visit with your provider. You explain and demonstrate what troubles you. Your provider asks a few more questions, asks for your blood pressure and heart rate, taken from a home blood pressure monitor, which is perhaps even connected wirelessly to your computer, phone or tablet. Similar home devices are also available to measure body temperature and oxygen saturation. Following this virtual visit, your provider might order additional tests, prescribe treatments, make referrals and arrange follow-up.

You have avoided going to the emergency room or to the busy doctor’s office and may have even avoided going anywhere, depending on the problem.

Another advantage of this approach is that the distance does not matter; providers can evaluate a patient who is traveling on business or who lives in a remote location.

Many conditions can often be remotely treated just as effectively as in an actual office visit. These include mental health and addiction treatments; follow-up after common chronic illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes for patients who usually already have a blood pressure and glucose meter at home; or asthma and COPD follow-up with patients who have a peak flow meter and pulse oximeter at home. Weight management and congestive heart failure follow-up can be managed remotely with the help of a home scale. Acne and many other issues can be followed by videoconferencing as well.

The illnesses my staff and I address range from milder problems, where the patient is reluctant to travel due to diarrhea, vomiting or flu symptoms, to more serious conditions sometimes requiring an extensive remote evaluation and sending the patient to a local hospital for urgent lab work and imaging.

When used appropriately, telemedicine can bring the patient peace of mind or enable the provider to begin a plan of treatment much sooner.

Of course, it is not suitable for every visit. There are several important limitations for providers to keep in mind, including the fact that they did not physically examine the patient. Providers need to make an extra effort to be sure their patients understand instructions and that a clear and close follow-up plan is in place. Patients must realize that there is always the possibility they might be asked to come in for a physical office visit or go to the ER after a telemedicine visit.

I personally enjoy being able to reach my patients at times when they need help but prefer not to leave their homes. I am very excited about what the future will bring. Like any new technology, telemedicine has the potential to grow exponentially in a few short years. In the near future, I envision remote electronic stethoscopes and cameras allowing high-definition images of throat, ear and skin lesions becoming more accessible, providing even more opportunities for remote health care.

The same goes for portable ultrasound and X-ray which, combined with home care nursing, may allow patients otherwise confined to a hospital to receive care in the comfort of their homes — and at lower cost — with the help of telemedicine.

Dr. Oleg Reznik is a St. Joseph Family Medicine physician who cares for employees of The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor and their families.