Telehealth Benefits: How to Maximize Your Virtual Visit
How patients can survive and thrive online.
Posted August 8, 2020
While the option has been available for years, many people have never considered visiting their doctor or therapist online—until the health crisis of 2020. Despite a degree of initial reluctance exhibited by some patients, telehealth has exploded as a viable alternative to in-person care.
Telehealth appointments offer the benefits of flexibility in terms of being able to work them into your schedule and convenience in terms of not needing to worry about transit time, traffic, parking, and time spent in a waiting room. They also allow patients to avoid the risk of contagion that exists in any type of hospital or clinical setting, especially in an enclosed waiting room where patients and family members congregate.
Obviously, not every type of appointment is possible online. Medical visits that require physical testing or examination cannot be done remotely. But for so many other types of patient concerns, both physical and emotional, virtual visits can be a convenient, practical substitute. Obtaining the maximum benefit from your virtual appointment, however, depends in part on you and your preparation.
Using New Technology Requires Old-Fashioned Preparation
Using new technology requires some old school commonsense advice. Here are a few tips.
Charged and Ready: Make sure your device is charged or plugged in and that you have a strong internet connection. Use a computer not a phone if possible to avoid making your clinician nauseous as you move your camera around.
The Quiet Zone: Identify a quiet space in your home, away from ringing phones and barking dogs, within which you can concentrate on your appointment. If you don’t have one, work with your family members to create a temporary distraction-free zone for your appointment.
Let There Be Light: Make sure your space is well lit, so your provider can see you and anything you want to show her. Natural light is best, if possible—make sure it is in front of you, not behind you.
Old-School Lists: To get the most out of your telehealth appointment in terms of seeking advice, prepare in the same way you would for a live visit. Write down a list of questions, concerns, medications you are taking, pre-existing conditions, physical symptoms you have experienced, etc. Even if you are used to doing everything online, a hard copy list will allow you to maintain visual contact with your provider through the computer screen, not waste time switching screens constantly to access your notes.
In addition, having your list offline will allow you to mentally focus more on the conversation with your doctor or therapist, and keeping a pen by your pad of paper will also allow you to take notes during your visit.
Medical Equipment to “Bring” to the Visit: Think through what readings or measurements would normally be taken during a live visit, and have available equipment with you. This includes thermometers, blood pressure readers, a scale, or anything else you might need in case your physician asks for a reading. You don’t want to waste time during your appointment taking breaks to search for things you might need. Have any prescription or even over the counter medication bottles by your computer in case you want to hold them up to the camera to show your provider any medications you are taking.
Group Therapy: Brook Calton et al. (2020) in “Telemedicine in the Time of Coronavirus” examined some additional practical considerations in using telehealth.[i] Among many other suggestions, they highlight the advantage of flexibility in terms of who can be a part of the virtual meeting. They note that other providers or family members of patients can participate in the televisit from multiple locations. In addition, if appropriate, patients can even “show” clinicians their home, and introduce them to other family members or pets. Once an appointment begins, however, it is always good advice to relocate to a private area to concentrate on the issues at hand.
The Future of Virtual Visits
Pandemic health precautions have prompted both providers and patients to fast-track their use of technology. From telework to virtual social gatherings to telemedicine, many people have adapted quickly to the (temporary) new normal. But given the benefits of telemedicine, it might not just be a temporary new normal. For conditions that do not require a live visit, it might actually become the norm. Either way, establishing good virtual habits now will provide a setting within which both patients and providers can make the most of every meeting.
[i] Calton, Brook, Nauzley Abedini, and Michael Fratkin. 2020. “Telemedicine in the Time of Coronavirus.” Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 60 (1): e12–14. doi:10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2020.03.019.