If you’re feeling sick or need to manage a chronic condition, going to the doctor online might be the best thing for your health. Technology has advanced enough that videoconferencing can be used for medical appointments. Telehealth is ideal for people who live very rurally, don’t have transportation, can’t move well, or need to talk to their doctor while they’re away from home. In pandemic times, going to the doctor online might mean getting seen faster and it definitely means not sitting in a waiting room with a bunch of sick people.
Your doctor can diagnose and treat many conditions over a videoconference and all you need in the way of equipment is a smartphone or laptop. You might end up needing to go into the doctor’s office anyway, for bloodwork or other diagnostic tests that need to happen in person. But, often, you can get prescriptions and a treatment plan for what ails you without leaving home.
How Telemedicine Works
During the most desperate days of the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors were authorized to use Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and other video calling apps to consult with patients. Normally, however, your doctor will want you to use a dedicated patient portal that has a bit more security than the most commonly used apps. You should use a unique password for this portal, because it will contain not only the means to teleconference with your doctor, but may also include sensitive health information, like test results, medications prescribed, and diagnoses rendered.
In order to have your virtual doctor appointment, you’ll login through your doctor’s patient portal. You may have to download a specific app. When you call the office to make an appointment, make sure you understand how to access the patient portal. They may have a link to send you.
Your health insurance will probably cover a telemedicine visit, and some may even offer lower copays for virtual doctor’s visits than for in-person ones. Medicare can pay for telehealth services. If you don’t have insurance, telehealth services like Plushcare offer telemedicine for a reasonable price.
Prepare for Your Appointment
It’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the technology before your doctor’s appointment. Download the app you need and figure out how to access your patient portal and how to enter the virtual waiting room. A trial run can help you work out any bugs and give you a chance to call your doctor back with any questions you might have.
You should also prepare for your virtual appointment by writing down all your symptoms, and any medications or treatments you’ve already tried. If you’re managing a chronic condition, you may need to take measurements, like your blood pressure or blood sugar, at home prior to your appointment. Write a list of any questions you want to remember to ask the doctor. Be prepared to take notes during your appointment.
Make sure you have the technology you’ll need for a virtual doctor visit. You need a laptop, tablet, or smartphone that you can use for video conferencing. You should find a quiet, private part of the house to have your appointment. Choose a spot with a strong wifi signal and be prepared to take the consultation to a voice call if your connection is bad.
Meet with the Doctor
When you first sign into your patient portal to meet with the doctor, you may need to access a virtual waiting room where you will wait for the doctor to connect. You may need to sign a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) consent form and other paperwork before your virtual visit can begin.
Describe your symptoms to the doctor and follow his or her instructions. If you have sinus pain, for example, the doctor may ask you to apply pressure to specific parts of your face to determine what’s causing it. If you’re seeking care to manage a chronic condition, be prepared to tell the doctor how you’re doing and hand over any readings or measurements that you have taken in preparation for the telehealth visit.
Follow Up in Person as Needed
In many cases, your doctor will be able to diagnose what’s wrong with you and prescribe a treatment over the course of a video visit. Minor conditions, especially ones that you’ve had before and are familiar with, are easy to diagnose over teleconference. Similarly, if you’re managing a chronic condition, your doctor will probably be able to adjust your treatment plan without seeing you in person.
But sometimes, your doctor is going to need to see you in person. It’s disappointing to go through the whole ritual of a telemedicine visit, only to end up having to go into the doctor’s office anyway. But there are plenty of times when your doctor will need more diagnostic tests than what he or she can perform over a video call. You might need to go into a hospital or doctor’s office to get X-rays or other imaging done, or to have blood drawn for testing, or even to seek treatment from another provider. For example, if your doctor recommends physical therapy to treat an injury, you’re not going to be able to do that over FaceTime.
Telemedicine can save time and resources because it helps keep many people with minor complaints out of urgent cares and emergency rooms. Those who need more in-depth care are directed into offices where they can receive it. Unless you’re absolutely sure that you need to see a doctor in person to get treatment for what you have, it’s worth it to see a doctor virtually and potentially save the trip into the doctor’s office. You can usually get seen sooner and get your prescriptions and other treatment during the virtual appointment. If you don’t have insurance, telemedicine can be easier to access than in-person medicine, especially for relatively minor things.
Whether you’re sick and need to get better fast, or have a chronic condition to manage, telemedicine can help. Telemedicine allows you to see your doctor virtually, so you can get the care you need fast. Try it out the next time you’re under the weather.