In the doctor’s office of today, telehealth tools are becoming almost as commonplace as stethoscopes and thermometers. Under physical-distancing recommendations prompted by the coronavirus outbreak, millions of American patients have paid virtual visits to doctors and other health care professionals. For many of those patients and professionals, it’s a brand-new experience.
Less than a year before any of us knew about the novel coronavirus, a survey conducted in June 2019 by Troy, Michigan-based market research company J.D. Power found that in the previous 12 months, only 9.6 percent of Americans had relied on telehealth as a substitute for going to a doctor’s office, urgent care clinic or ER. Meanwhile, an April 2020 survey by Dallas-based physician search firm Merritt Hawkins showed that 48 percent of U.S. doctors were treating patients through telehealth, compared with 18 percent in 2018.
While some health care professionals might revert mostly to in-person-only appointments once the coronavirus pandemic subsides, others might maintain and even ramp up virtual care by videoconference, phone, text, email and other electronic means.
Whether you’re depending on telehealth temporarily or permanently, follow these eight tips to ensure you gain the most you can from a virtual health care appointment.
1. Ask for a demonstration
Are you uncomfortable with technology? If that’s the case, request a demonstration of the telehealth technology ahead of your appointment, says Bo Claypool, founder and executive director of Austin, Texas-based psychiatric recruiting and staffing firm Monroe & Weisbord, which recently launched a telehealth platform. This ensures your telehealth session goes smoothly, he says.
2. Test the technology
Well before your video appointment, test your technology, Northern California licensed physical therapist Nicole Lombardo recommends.
Is your internet service up and running? Is the microphone on your computer working correctly? Is your computer’s webcam operating normally? Does your health care provider’s telehealth setup have any glitches?
This pre-appointment check “minimizes technological difficulties and ensures that you can show up to the visit on time,” Lombardo says.
3. Allocate extra time
Dr. Natalie Santiago, a pediatrician in the Chicago area, suggests clearing your schedule for about 15 minutes ahead of your appointment. A nurse, medical assistant or other professional might call you ahead of time to go over your vital signs and discuss details of your appointment.
4. Create the proper setting
If you’re visiting a health care professional virtually, be sure to choose the right atmosphere — especially if the appointment is done via videoconference.
“In general, like all videoconferencing calls, it’s ideal to be in a quiet indoor place for your session with a strong internet connection,” Claypool says.
Santiago adds that you should:
- Turn on lights that are bright enough so a health care professional can easily evaluate your eyes, skin and other body parts.
- Silence your phone if you’re not using it during the appointment.
- Encourage anyone else in home to be quiet so that you can clearly communicate with the health care professional.
To cut down on other distractions during your appointment, close internet browsers that are open on your electronic device and sign out of your email service, says Melissa Wesner, a licensed professional counselor in Towson, Maryland.
In addition, plastic surgeon Dr. Johnny Franco of Austin, Texas, suggests eliminating background noise by turning off your TV and music, and by not driving when you’re chatting over the phone with a health care professional.
5. Arm yourself with information
Jot down two or three key questions that you want to ask your health care provider, Santiago says, and be prepared to take notes.
In addition, come up with a list of all the medications you’re currently taking or, better yet, gather all of the medication bottles so you can refer to them during the appointment, says Dr. Adam Mamelak, a dermatologist in Austin, Texas.
Santiago also suggests keeping your pharmacy’s name, address and phone number handy in case the health care provider wants to prescribe medication.
6. Review your medical history
Be ready to go over your medical background with the health care professional, says Steve Richardson, vice president of population health at Norfolk, Virginia-based UHSM Telemedicine by Healthrive, a telehealth platform. This includes sharing information about:
- Allergies, particularly allergies to medicine.
- Existing health conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes.
- Previous surgeries.
“The better you prepare, the smoother the visit will go and the more efficient it will be,” Richardson says.
7. Realize the constraints of telehealth
Keep in mind that telehealth isn’t designed to address all of your health care needs, says Dr. Jay Woody, chief medical officer of Intuitive Health and co-founder of Legacy ER & Urgent Care, both in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Rather, telehealth should be limited to low-risk, non-emergency situations.
“The provider can offer medical advice, diagnose certain health-related conditions and discuss possible issues,” Woody says. “While telehealth serves a health care need, it should not be considered complete care. The physical nature of an injury or treatment for many sicknesses may require specialized equipment and testing that must be done in a facility.”
8. Embrace the benefits
Joseph Tropper, a clinical therapist in Baltimore, urges you to appreciate the short-term and long-term benefits of telehealth.
In the short term, telehealth sessions have grown in popularity as we’ve adapted to societal changes spawned by the coronavirus pandemic, he says.
“Being socially distant helps us discover new ways of adapting to stressful situations,” Tropper says. “Many people have learned to appreciate the value of connecting to people far from them, as well as picking up new activities that can suppress their loneliness and make them feel better.”
Tropper also sees long-term value in telehealth.
“In my experience, almost 75 percent of my clients are pleasantly surprised by how effective it is,” he says. “We all need the support that we need, and telehealth is a good way to provide it.”