Telemedicine was already getting popular before the COVID-19 pandemic, but now it’s skyrocketed in popularity. Thousands of people who never would have considered a virtual doctor’s appointment before are now using them to remain self-isolated, avoid the risk of contagion to and from other patients in a medical facility, and still get the care they need. But visiting a doctor online isn’t quite like visiting one in person.
For one thing, your doctor obviously can’t palpitate your throat or listen to your chest over the Internet, and that’s going to mean that many complaints require a follow-up visit in person. But you’d be surprised at what medical professionals can accomplish over a video chat or even an old-fashioned telephone call. To make the most of your virtual visit, you should prepare as you would for any visit, get any necessary documentation in order, make sure you’re ready to use the tech, and set aside a time and place for the visit where you’ll have quiet and privacy.
Prepare as You Would for Any Doctor’s Visit
Pandemic or no pandemic, you pretty much always need to do some homework before a doctor’s visit — with the possible exception of good visits, if you don’t have any concerns about your health when they occur. But if you’re sick, you’ll need to articulate your concerns and symptoms to your doctor, and that’s not always as easy to do over the internet, where your doctor can’t examine you physically in person.
Be ready to discuss the reason for your visit and, if you have multiple concerns, prioritize them. Prepare a record of your symptoms, including when they started, what seems to make them better, and what seems to make them worse. If you have visible symptoms, like rashes, swelling, moles, bites, or growths, take photos of them to provide to your doctor. If you have a rash or inflammation that is spreading, you can use progressive photos to show your doctor how fast it’s progressing. Circle the rash with a marker, take a picture, then take subsequent pictures every 15 to 30 minutes over the course of about two hours, circling the whole rash in each photo and noting the time at which each progression was documented.
Get Your Documentation in Order
Some doctors are accepting new patients virtually thanks to the pandemic, so if you’re seeing a new doctor for the first time in a virtual visit, make sure they have all the documentation they need before the visit. Have your medical records forwarded to the new doctor before the visit, so that he or she can review them before your visit. If you’re seeing a new primary care provider for the first time, ask if you need to fill out new patient intake paperwork before your virtual visit, and be ready to provide your doctor with a list of medications you’re taking and any concerns you might have.
Make Sure You’re Comfortable with the Tech
When a virtual doctor appointment goes sideways, it’s usually a technical issue, and the most common technical difficulty is when a patient struggles to login into a patient portal and access the telemedicine app. Doctors don’t use Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime to do virtual visits — instead, they use more secure video calling platforms that may be integrated with their patient portal apps.
Make sure you have your login information and know-how to access the video chat platform ahead of your appointment. The receptionist at your doctor’s office should be able to talk you through it over the phone, if necessary. And if you don’t have access to a device with video calling or can’t get the platform to work, you can ask your doctor to conduct your appointment over an old-fashioned phone call as a last resort.
Do Your Virtual Appointment in a Quiet, Private Space
You wouldn’t want to have a Zoom meeting for work while your kids are shrieking in the background, and the same goes for a virtual doctor’s appointment. You’ll want to find a private space in your home to discuss your medical issues, and you’ll need quiet to ensure that you can hear your doctor and vice versa.
Seeing your doctor over the internet can help you get the care you need without putting yourself or others at risk. While it might seem intimidating at first, a virtual doctor visit can be quick and easy — so much so that you’ll wonder why you needed to wait for a pandemic to try one.