Telemedicine technology has been ramping up for some time, but the need for health-care alternatives in the face of the coronavirus pandemic has led to it being adopted at warp speed. Even some injuries can be managed by video chat.
Whether your telemedicine visit is with one of your existing providers or via a telehealth-service doctor you have never met, here are the steps to take before and during your appointment to get the most out of it.
Test out the software. Health systems and medical practices have various telemedicine applications to choose from, so unless all your specialists belong to the same network, the software may be different from one provider to another. You may need to install a mobile app—some software works only on a tablet or a smartphone rather than on a computer—or sign up for an online account with a telemedicine platform.
Once an appointment has been made, you may receive a text or an e-mail with a link and directions for you to test the system and fill out forms. Don’t wait until the last minute in case you need time to troubleshoot. You’ll be guided through a few screens to make sure your camera and speakers can be accessed…that you can see and hear the doctor…and that you can be seen and heard by him/her.
In order for some telemedicine programs to work correctly, you may be prompted to exit other programs or close out of other websites. If your home Internet connection is spotty, you might try running the test on your various devices to see if the platform works better on one than on another.
Take your vital signs. With a few moderate-cost devices, you can perform many of the health checks a nurse would do in the office and report them to your provider. Depending on the nature of your call, these can be very helpful…
- Bathroom scale
- Blood pressure cuff (you may have a lower reading at home because you’re more relaxed).
You can take your pulse on many gadgets and track atrial fibrillation on an Apple Watch.
If you’re managing a chronic condition and haven’t invested in monitoring tools—such as an advanced blood glucose monitor for diabetes that can store and relay information to your doctor’s office or a fingertip pulse oximeter for measuring blood oxygen if you have COPD—now may be the time. Some or all may be covered by insurance. Getting these readings from you in advance helps the doctor prepare for your appointment.
Create a script of your symptoms and concerns. This will help you stay focused and ensure that you don’t omit any details or questions, especially if it feels awkward to communicate through a screen. State your list of concerns at the beginning of the appointment so that issues can be prioritized, and the time will be well-managed from the start. If you have a visible issue, such as a swollen joint or a rash, take clear, straight-on photos and send them to the doctor as a text or e-mail attachment. This is usually a lot easier than trying to find the right angle at which to hold the affected area up to your device’s camera during the appointment.
Have a written health history to refer to. Of course, this is essential if you’re talking to a telemedicine-service doctor you’ve never met, but even if you’re meeting with a member of your existing medical team, be prepared to succinctly communicate the pertinent parts of your medical history as a reminder for your provider. While all of this information should be in your doctor’s records on you, reviewing it all helps prevent errors. It should include a detailed medication list with product names, dosages and frequency and the names of the prescribing doctors…any allergies (this will help to prevent drug interactions if the telemedicine doctor e-prescribes a new drug)…a list of significant hospital stays and surgeries…and any other information that could be pertinent to why you’re being seen. If there’s a chat box, you can use it to type in complex drug names.
Be patient. As in a real office, you might experience a wait time.
Get past any self-consciousness. As surprising as this sounds, even when sick, some people suddenly worry about how they look when they see their face on the screen. One of my patients actually aimed the camera at her feet! Remember that we’ve seen it all before and we want to see you—eye contact and nonverbal cues assist in making a diagnosis.
Have your care advocate with you. Just as your spouse or another loved one—or your caregiver—might accompany you to an office visit, he/she can be on the virtual visit, too, whether to describe symptoms, provide tech help or take notes.
Take and read back notes. This is important because you can’t just turn to the nurse for clarification after the doctor leaves the examination room as you might if you were in the office. Ask if any instructions can be e-mailed to you.
Clarify the follow-up. A virtual visit might lead to an in-person checkup if your condition doesn’t improve or if your problem needs a physical examination. If it is a check-in to see how you’re managing a chronic condition, you may be able to schedule your next visit virtually as well. If your next step is a lab test, ask whether the script will be sent to you or straight to the lab and how the results will be communicated to you.
As telemedicine technology continues to advance and as patients and doctors get better at using it, it will become even easier to access care without leaving your home.