Welcome to the telehealth renaissance.
Healthcare has been delivered through digital means for a long time, but we’ve never seen such widespread use as we have this year. Telehealth usage isn’t likely to slow down, either. Not only is COVID-19 still a serious concern nationwide, but telehealth has also proven hugely useful to all manner of patients. As Amwell’s CEO and President Roy Schoenberg said recently, it would be “unreasonable” to withdraw telehealth services now. Even the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are hoping to permanently expand telehealth benefits for their members.
As a result, doctors and patients all over the country have had to quickly learn how to use telehealth services. Even the most tech-savvy patient may feel some apprehension before their first appointment, but there’s nothing to fear. Telehealth is useful, secure, and easier to use than you might expect. Ease your mind with our timeline of tips.
Days before your appointment
Make sure you know what to expect. If you haven’t received adequate instructions or you want to confirm the details, call your provider or contact them through your online patient portal to ask the following:
- How will I connect with the doctor for my appointment? Will I be sent a link through my email or phone, or will I need to log in to a special portal?
- Should I use a specific web browser? (Many sites and web applications are built and tested using Chrome or Firefox, and may experience issues if used through Internet Explorer or Safari.)
- Is there anything I need to download or any accounts I need to create?
- What phone number can I call if I have technical difficulties during my appointment?
If you’re concerned about cost, call your insurance company rather than your provider. Most likely, your telehealth appointment will cost the same as a normal, in-person visit, and you will be charged the same copay. Be sure to ask whether there are any restrictions on telehealth coverage. There may be cases when your insurer will not pay for telehealth unless it is for a COVID-19 related concern.
Just as you would for an in-person doctor’s visit, prepare for your telehealth appointment by completing any paperwork you’ve been sent by the provider’s office, gathering information, and writing down questions for your provider. You will need:
- A current list of prescriptions, supplements, and over-the-counter medications (or simply gather your medications to show to your doctor on camera).
- Your health history and any updates.
- Your current symptoms or concerns, if applicable.
- Questions regarding your current treatment plan, if applicable.
Also, due to our current public health emergency, be sure to tell the doctor if you have been:
- Tested for COVID-19;
- Struggling with shortness of breath, fevers, and fatigue;
- In contact with anyone showing symptoms or who has tested positive for the virus.
Prepare your electronic devices, as well. Decide whether you will use a laptop, tablet, smartphone, or desktop computer with a webcam. Regardless, you will want the camera to be at eye-level during your appointment and you will need to be hands-free. Experiment with the positioning of the device, and find a way to prop it up securely. If not using a desktop computer, charge your device completely.
If your wifi connection is unreliable or you do not have home internet service, make sure your provider is aware of that. They may suggest a phone-based appointment instead. If using a laptop or desktop computer, you might consider trying an ethernet cable to improve your internet connection.
Right before your appointment
Find a quiet, private place to sit. Set up your device and position yourself with a light source or window in front of you so your doctor can see your face clearly.
Access the telehealth platform as directed by your provider. You may have to wait in a virtual “waiting room” for a short time before the doctor or nurse appears on camera. Check that your camera is on, your microphone is not muted, and your face is completely visible in the camera.
In some cases, your provider might ask you to obtain some vital signs. Not everyone has a blood pressure cuff, scale, or thermometer at home, but if you do, make the most of them. Sharing your current blood pressure, heart rate, weight, and temperature can help your doctor.
During your appointment
The stress of using new technology can sometimes cause patients to get flustered – don’t forget about the questions you wrote down previously. You might have a trusted (and properly quarantined) family member or friend sit with you in case you need a reminder. If you’re alone, have a pen and paper nearby to take notes.
If you have technical trouble, your internet connection drops, or you knock your coffee all over your device, don’t panic! Try to trouble-shoot the problem first, if you can. If all else fails, call your provider’s office (or other support number) and explain that your telehealth visit was cut short.
After your appointment
Hopefully, your provider answered all of your questions and was able to offer you the care you needed. In some cases, your doctor may ask you to come in for an in-person appointment. Generally, they will simply schedule a follow-up telehealth appointment.
If your doctor has prescribed you a new medication, you still don’t need to leave the house. Take advantage of ScriptDrop delivery and get your prescription brought to your doorstep.
Not all healthcare interactions can be replaced by telehealth. If you need a detailed physical exam, in-office diagnostic testing, or medication administered by a doctor, you will need to go in person. Be sure to take precautions: wear a mask, sanitize your hands before and after, and follow the office’s safety protocols.
But in many cases, you can reduce your risk of COVID-19 exposure and still get great care from your trusted providers from the comfort of home. Welcome to the future.