- With routine medical care having to go remote during the coronavirus pandemic, telehealth is here to stay.
- Telehealth appointments have a similar format to an in-person visit, but there’s still a few adjustments you’ll probably need to make.
- Be sure to choose a private spot, and ensure that the visit will be as distraction-free as possible.
- Make sure you still have all of the documents or information you’d bring to a normal visit.
- Be sure to confirm next steps before you log off; you may need to coordinate things like blood work or an in-person visit.
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No matter what happens over the next few weeks, months, or even years, telehealth is likely to be an option for routine medical care going forward. This is especially true for patients who have difficulty getting to their appointment or who are at high risk for COVID-19. For everyone else, the convenience of telehealth in the midst of a busy world may remain alluring.
Telehealth appointments mirror in-person visits, where your clinician will ask various medical history questions and probe for specifics on your current health. Just like in the office, medical students or residents may accompany the physician. There can even be a limited medical exam with some providers collecting digital vital signs. All of this can help develop an effective medical plan for you, the patient.
With telehealth, you are in control and can take specific actions to maximise your experience. Here are some helpful tips for you to make each of your visits a success.
Prepare for your visit
The general rule for any telehealth visit is to approach it just as if you were going to the office:
- Being on time. Chances are, your provider is seeing other patients before and after your visit. Be ready five or 10 minutes before your appointment. We all know physicians can get delayed. At least with telehealth, you can wait in the comfort of home.
- Testing the technology. Technical difficulties happen, even in a perfect world. Make sure to test your WiFi and device before your appointment. Your doctor’s office will provide instructions on which platform to use. A staff member may even offer to complete a trial run beforehand. In most cases, you can use a smartphone (iPhone, Android, etc.), desktop or laptop as long as your device has a camera. Whatever device, it should be fully charged and connected to the Wi-Fi.
- Choosing the right location. Find a private spot in your home or wherever you are connecting. Your provider may be in their office or possibly at home, but they will be in a private area to maintain your privacy. Sitting outside, in a communal space of the house, or even walking down the street (it happens!) can create a noisy environment with multiple distractions. This can lead to repeated questions or avoiding more sensitive questions due to the location the patient is in.
- Avoiding distractions. Of course, it can’t be perfect. Try to anticipate the unexpected. COVID-19 has forced many parents and caregivers to remain home with their children as schools have closed and child care is unavailable. Consider preparing snacks or reserve that screen time (your paediatrician would approve – we promise) for your appointment. If your child is the patient, sit next to them and allow them to participate, when appropriate. Pets can also be a distraction, so move them to another room. Anything you can do to prevent interruptions will lead to a more successful experience.
The actual visit
Telehealth can be a slightly jarring experience at first, especially if you are meeting a new provider. Give yourself adjustment time. It’s OK to ask questions or for the provider to repeat themselves. You can also do the following:
- Make sure the camera is correctly positioned. Show your whole face (not just your nose and mouth). Also, pay attention to what or who is in your background to not add distractions. Dress appropriately, even though you are at home (e.g., wear pants). It is after all still a visit with your provider.
- Bring what you need. This is just like a visit to the office. Set an agenda and have your questions ready. Pen and paper may be your friend here, especially if you are already using your smartphone for the visit. Have your medication list handy. Any time you have to spend finding something is lost time for your appointment
- Prepare others for the visit. If a language barrier exists, your provider can access an interpreter for telehealth. In addition, you may want a loved one to sit in on the appointment. Clinicians can “conference in” other attendees. Take advantage of this. Family members who previously couldn’t attend because they lived in another state can now join. If there is someone you want present during your appointment – specify this at the start of the appointment to your provider.
- Recognise time limitations. Just like in the office, you may feel like you ran out of time. Prioritise what you want to accomplish and stay the course. Providers can do time checks to keep the conversation moving. While telehealth appointments could potentially feel more casual, it will likely come with a stricter time limit than your online game night with friends.
The after-visit plan
This is when telehealth often differs from an in-office visit. Typically, after an office appointment, you can have blood work done or schedule a procedure, if needed. This will work differently with telehealth.
Clarify whether you need further testing before logging off. If you need blood work, find out where to go and how the lab slips will get there. If you need a procedure, learn who you should call to schedule it. Always confirm next steps with your provider before logging off. Ensure you know if the next appointment should be telehealth or in-person, as there are limitations with telehealth – we can’t do an EKG or listen to your heart.
Remember, telehealth services are still ramping up. There will be issues and we will work together to solve them. But you as the patient can definitively play a role in its success and continue having a positive impact on your health and wellbeing, remotely.
Matthew J. Whitson, MD MSEd, is the Associate Program Director of Gastroenterology at North Shore University Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell. Mariecel Pilapil MD MPH, is dual-boarded in Pediatrics and Internal Medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Centre and is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.
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