Routine health care looks a lot different during the pandemic. Many providers are using remote visits via videoconferencing. If you’re planning on a telemedicine visit (and if you aren’t, you likely will), there are some things to know to be prepared.
Health care providers have a lot to worry about right now. Maintaining social distancing to keep other patients and medical providers safe can be tough. That’s one reason many doctors are turning to telemedicine to virtually see people for all sorts of health concerns, follow-up appointments and mental health visits.
At Yale Medicine, for instance, on a day pre-COVID-19, they could have around 34 video visits scheduled, but in just one day in March, there were more than 1,500 scheduled.
And while telemedicine visits are becoming more common, there can be a learning curve for patients. While some may be tech savvy and have no problem with the concept, others may be venturing in to videoconferencing for the first time. This is something new for a lot of health care providers as well. But some basic information will help you be ready for when it’s your turn to see the doctor online.
You’ll need a computer, internet access and a webcam or mobile device, like a smartphone or a tablet. You’ll be required to have an account on a specific website or app used by the health care provider. If you don’t have access to the internet, Medicare will cover telephone audio-only visits.
Be assured that privacy laws still apply and organizations will do their best to make sure the information you share is private. During this nationwide public health emergency that is COVID-19, the Department of Health and Human Services has broadened HIPAA regulations. These amendments allow health care providers to communicate with patients through remote technologies.
If you don’t have health insurance or a primary care physician, there are companies that offer telehealth to you. The Consumer Technology Association partnered with the American Telemedicine Association to put together a Digital Health Directory. The website makes it easy to choose what type of care you need and then scroll through a list of services available to you.
Be prepared before you log in to your virtual visit by writing down what you want to address. DHS suggests you list your symptoms and when they started. Also note any specific questions you have. It’s easy to forget when you get on the video call. It also might be helpful to take pictures of any problem areas you’ll need to show your provider. Yes you may be able to show a skin rash on the webcam, but texting over a photo may be clearer, faster and less awkward.
Have medical devices that you may need on hand. Is this a checkup for your high blood pressure? Make sure your blood pressure monitoring device is nearby. Step on the scale beforehand so you know your weight and especially during these times, use a thermometer so you know your temperature before your virtual visit.
Treat a telemedicine appointment the same as you would any other videoconference call. Be in a quiet place so your provider can hear you clearly. Make sure there’s plenty of light and that your camera is steady. If you think you’ll need to show the provider something on your body, make sure you wear loose clothing so that you can easily get to what you need to show.
And be aware that just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s free. You (or your insurance) will be billed for your virtual visit just like you would had you walked in to their office. You may want to check with your insurance company prior to your visit to ensure coverage.
Don’t rely on telemedicine for emergencies. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that health systems around Philadelphia say stroke and cardiac cases are too low. It’s not that they wish more people would have those conditions, but they know those patients are out there, they just aren’t coming to the emergency room. Some people are waiting too long to go in and symptoms like chest pain, weakness on one side of the face or body and sudden difficulty breathing are not symptoms that can wait for a telemedicine appointment. These types of issues must be treated as soon as possible to try and prevent long-term damage.
Don’t wait until the last minute to figure out how a virtual visit with a health care provider will work. Seeing your doctor over a webcam instead of face-to-face could be the norm for quite a while.