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Telehealth During Coronavirus: What to Expect in Virtual Doctor Appointments

Telehealth During Coronavirus: What to Expect in Virtual Doctor Appointments

What to know about this emerging healthcare trend

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The coronavirus pandemic has changed many aspects of life, including how we go grocery shopping, how kids attend school and how doctors’ offices handle appointments. The COVID-19 outbreak spurred a massive shift to remote “telehealth” digital healthcare services to protect both medical staff and patients. One of the biggest components of telehealth is “telemedicine,” which means using technologies and telecommunication systems to administer healthcare to patients.

While there are situations that still require in-person visits, certain facilities might require or ask patients to have a remote doctor’s appointment over a video call to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. If you’re new to this rapidly emerging technology, here’s what to expect and how to prepare for a virtual doctor’s visit.

Your insurance might limit your telehealth options

Your insurance might limit your telehealth options

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Policy changes during the pandemic have reduced many barriers to telehealth access for both patients as well as providers and facilities. However, there remain limits on reimbursement, with different states offering differing degrees of flexibility with Medicaid and private health insurance providers offering different levels of coverage. Before booking a virtual appointment, confirm with your insurance or your doctor’s office if and how much of your visit will be reimbursed.

You need certain equipment

You need certain equipment

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Virtual doctor’s visits are typically done over video, so patients will need an internet connection and a computer, smartphone or tablet with a web camera, microphone and speakers. You might have to download an app or create an account through the telehealth service your doctor uses in order to securely video chat with them. Test your equipment and make sure any apps you need are running properly before your appointment.

You could have your appointment over the phone

You could have your appointment over the phone

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An alternative to video meetings for patients with disabilities or inexperience with or lack of access to technology is telemedicine by telephone. While some insurance providers, laws and regulations recognize the use of audio-only telephone calls as within the definition of “telehealth,” others do not.

You need a private space

You need a private space

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It’s important to not keep secrets from your doctor. Ahead of your virtual appointment, find a private space so you can openly talk with your doctor or nurse about your private healthcare information or show parts of your body if needed for the exam.

You need good lighting

You need good lighting

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Before your virtual appointment, set up your computer, smartphone or tablet in a well-lit area. You might also need a small lamp, flashlight or a phone light nearby to help your doctor examine parts of your body like your throat or eyes.

You might need to send pictures

You might need to send pictures

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Your doctor or nurse still might have trouble examining certain areas over a video call. If you have a particular area of concern like a rash or wound, consider taking a picture and sending it to your doctor or nurse through their secure system. They may be able to see details better in a photo compared to over video.

You will need to share documents in advance

You will need to share documents in advance

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If you need to provide your healthcare provider with any documents such as medical history or insurance information, send them over ahead of time. You may not be able to do so within the video app once your appointment begins.

You should be early

You should be early

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One of the new etiquette rules in the age of coronavirus is that you should be early to your virtual appointment. Click on the link provided to you to begin your video visit 15 minutes before your scheduled appointment time so that both you and your doctor’s staff can troubleshoot any issues. If your healthcare provider is late to your appointment, wait for them to join. Contact their office if the wait becomes too long.

You should have a phone handy

You should have a phone handy

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If you’re using a computer or tablet for your virtual appointment, you should still have your phone with you in case you get disconnected, your doctor needs to reach you or you need to call their office.

You can schedule video visits for children as well

You can schedule video visits for children as well

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Video visits are available for adults as well as for children of all ages. However, a parent or legal guardian must be present for someone under 18 to be seen.

You should make sure your child can focus during the appointment

You should make sure your child can focus during the appointment

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If the virtual appointment is for your child, prepare them for the appointment ahead of time. On top of having them with you, make sure they've gone to the bathroom and are not hungry. Have a quiet activity or toy to keep them entertained if necessary during the appointment.

You might take your own vitals

You might take your own vitals

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Since you’re not seeing your doctor in person, you might be asked to take your own vital signs or your child’s vital signs before the visit, if you have the necessary tools to do so. These include your temperature, blood pressure, heart rate counted over one minute, your oxygen level, blood sugar and body weight.

You can still bring a friend or family member

You can still bring a friend or family member

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If you’re nervous about your appointment or need moral support, you can have a family member or friend present for your virtual visit. They can write down important information for you and might pose important questions that you never thought to ask.

You might communicate more frequently with your doctor

You might communicate more frequently with your doctor

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While you might not be meeting with your doctor physically, telehealth could actually mean you’re in more frequent communication with your doctor and the rest of your health team. Patient portals and apps can facilitate more frequent and direct communication between you and your provider through secure messaging. You may be able to pass along messages, images and data to help them diagnose or monitor your condition.

Your doctor might recommend mobile health apps

Your doctor might recommend mobile health apps

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Outside of your video visits with your doctor, they might recommend you download health apps for your smartphone that can assist them in communicating with you and managing your health. These apps might be used for tracking patient data, enhancing patient education on aspects of their health or even providing diagnostic treatment. E-diaries can help patients log symptoms like bouts of severe pain, monitor chronic conditions like diabetes or medical events like seizures.

Your doctor might recommend remote monitoring

Your doctor might recommend remote monitoring

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Beyond apps, your doctor might also recommend the use of remote home monitoring as part of your telemedicine plan. Sensors can be activated on a smartwatch or smartphone as well as attached directly to the patient, incorporated into their clothes or embedded somewhere in their home environment.

You will save time and money

You will save time and money

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Beyond helping prevent the spread of COVID-19, virtual doctor’s appointments have additional benefits: saving you money and time. Telehealth appointments can actually cost less than an in-person visit to a doctor’s office, urgent-care center or the emergency room. Some telehealth services are available 24/7 so you can work appointments around your schedule without having to take time off from work to see a doctor during office hours.

You might have to visit your doctor in person anyway

You might have to visit your doctor in person anyway

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During your virtual appointment, your doctor, nurse or healthcare provider might not be able to diagnose you. They may recommend you still visit in person for further examination or tests. For example, if you might have strep, you’ll need to take a test in person to confirm your diagnosis.

You should be patient

You should be patient

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According to the American Medical Association, doctors and other health professionals are seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients through telehealth than they did before the coronavirus pandemic. The rapid shift to telehealth services means some offices, clinics, hospitals and other healthcare providers are experiencing growing pains and technology issues. Prepare yourself for things not to run as smoothly during your first virtual appointment as they would in-person and be patient with your doctors, nurses and office staff members.

You should still schedule your next appointment

You should still schedule your next appointment

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The best time to schedule your next appointment is while you’re at the doctor’s office. But just because you’re not stopping by the physical receptionist’s desk on the way out doesn’t mean you shouldn't still schedule your next appointment. Make any necessary follow-up appointments immediately after your virtual visit. Having regular appointments and check-ups with doctors is actually a healthy habit of people who never get sick.

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