The unfortunate presence of COVID-19 and the illness and death it has caused worldwide since late 2019 has challenged medical delivery across the globe. Perhaps one of the few silver-linings to the pandemic is the ever-growing role of telemedicine in delivering care to patients virtually and remotely. The growth in this area has been nothing short of spectacular.

There is an optimal way, I feel, to make the most of your telemedicine visit, and it differs not too much from your regular doctors’ office visit. One of the key differences here is that oftentimes in virtual care, you might not know the practitioner on the other end and vice-versa. This is because so many systems are overwhelmed with the need for care that you might have to go outside your normal medical channels to get cared for. The purpose of this article is to best prepare you for that.

Whether your own doctor, HMO or other health plan offers telemedicine, or you use one of the growing online companies that provides this service, you still need to communicate efficiently and precisely with the person on the other end of the screen. This is particularly true if that person does not have ready access to your medical record and history.

That is why it is so important, in these types of encounters, to keep the visit exact, short and organized. Here’s how you do that:

  1. As I have advised in many of my writings, have a list of your major diagnoses readily at hand. Eczema is not crucial, for example, but hypertension, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease certainly are. Employ common sense here.
  2. Have a list of your prescription medications and any supplements you take.
  3. Know your allergies and sensitivities to medicines.
  4. Have a list of your major surgeries and procedures handy.
  5. Be prepared to ask and answer questions relevant to COVID-19, if that is the purpose of your visit. In particular, be ready to address issues related to lungs and breathing, fever, sore throat, fatigue, body aches, headache, skin discoloration, urinary changes, gastrointestinal and bowel habits alterations, numbness and tingling or weakness in your face, arms, hands, legs and feet and any alteration in the sense of smell or taste.
  6. If you own a portable blood pressure monitor, thermometer and/or a portable pulse oximeter, have those close at hand. The doctor or other medical professional may have you take your blood pressure, measure your own pulse and see if your oxygen level is in the normal range.
  7. If the tele-visit allows for the practitioner to hear how your breathing sounds through a virtual stethoscope, as some advanced visits are now doing, be sure to ask about that.
  8. If you are frail, have physical or mental challenges that would make the visit less than optimal, see if an advocate, friend or family member can assist you with the visit.
  9. Make sure you know how to use the technology. If the patient is not technologically savvy, have someone with him/her to help the visit go smoothly. Doctors don’t mind the visit constraints per se of telemedicine. It’s the end-user’s skill, or lack of it, that will dictate how well the consult goes.

Be sure to takes notes and write down the recommendations offered by the health care professional. If blood tests, medication changes, X-rays or other interventions are suggested, be sure to understand how to best accomplish those tasks. Does the service offer to call your pharmacy? Can they order a chest X-ray for you, or check a urine sample for you? Will they send a report to your primary care doctor if you were unable to see that person for your care? Coordination, accuracy and follow-through are key.

Telemedicine, though not optimal and less than a face-to-face visit, is still a valuable and essential tool in this evolving health crisis. No doubt, long after the virus is gone, it will remain, as many predict, as a mainstay in treatment for an ever aging and chronically ill population. Better to learn the ins and outs of telemedicine now than to wait for those times to come. 

For more with Dr. Sherer, click here for his podcast and video interviews, and here to buy David’s book, Hospital Survival Guide: The Patient Handbook to Getting Better and Getting Out.