The need for people to see their doctors while avoiding exposure to Covid-19 is pushing telemedicine to the front lines of health care. Telemedicine might have seemed like a nice idea to try out someday in the future before the arrival of stay-at-home orders and social distancing. Most patients who responded to a recent survey agree the future is here. Some 25 percent of those consumers said they had used telehealth before the current Covid-19 pandemic. Now 59 percent say they are more likely than previously to use telehealth services.
This revelation comes from a survey by Sage Growth Partner (SGP) and Black Book Market Research.
Telemedicine is playing a vital role in delivering health care. Should you use a virtual visit to consult your health care provider? Here are issues to consider as you debate going for an in-person appointment.
Does telemedicine fit all health care needs?
Telehealth just isn’t suited for some issues. Consulting your primary care physician or specialist should be the first step in deciding if a telemedicine visit is a right fit for you. Call your doctor’s office first to find out if they offer telemedicine visits and if you will need to establish an account.
If you simply want advice, telehealth may work well for you. Virtual appointments are a great way to ask questions, discuss symptoms, and explore any concerns you may have. You may also start with telehealth for non-emergencies that will eventually end up requiring in-person care. A virtual visit can help your doctor decide if an IRL face-to-face visit is needed.
Telemedicine also works well for post-operative patients and those who may need simple adjustments in managing care for conditions such as Crohn’s or colitis. Many psychiatrists are converting to telemedicine and seeing patients virtually.
Who needs to keep office appointments?
There are some general guidelines to consider, but here’s the basic: If you need a physical examination or if you’re starting a new treatment that requires a formal assessment, you can expect your health care provider will want to see you in person.
Allergy and asthma patients who are scheduled for in-office therapies such as allergy shots or biologic treatments should go to their doctor’s office and keep to their regular schedule of treatments. Kidney patients on dialysis and patients receiving cancer treatment should not miss any of their regularly scheduled appointments.
Revised prenatal care may work for some pregnant women to avoid the risk of exposure to Covid-19. This schedule could combine virtual visits for supplement counseling with in-person appointments for ultrasounds and lab work. Consult your ob/gyn.
What can you expect at a televisit with the doctor?
Prioritize two or three important points you want to discuss before the visit begins. This will help you focus on your purpose in setting the appointment. Your doctor may discuss the usual information you would normally share such as new symptoms and old medical history. You’ll have the standard shared decision-making conversation about your medical care.
Know what medicines you are taking and collect your medical records. If you are a diabetic patient, have blood-sugar logs handy. If you’re suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms, keep a food log to discuss.
There won’t be a physical exam, although your medical provider may ask to see the area that is concerning you. Wear loose clothing. A penlight or smartphone flashlight for viewing a sore throat may be helpful with your tele-exam. Assemble other needed devices such as a blood-pressure cuff or a thermometer.
How do you set up a telemedicine visit?
Ask your doctor’s office if you’ll need special software on your computer, phone or tablet. Many providers are using popular apps such as CareMount, FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp and Zoom to conduct telehealth visits. You may need to use a HIPAA-compliant platform such as doxy.me or MyChart. Get acquainted with the technology you will be using so you’re not trying to figure it out during the visit.
Find out what you’ll pay for the virtual visit. Many private insurers are following the lead of Medicare and Medicaid in covering the full cost of telemedicine service with many types of providers. Your insurer also may cover your use of websites such as teladoc.com.