By Dr. Peter Alperin, vice president of product, Doximity.
It’s 2020 and doctors are doing house calls again. No, we didn’t step back in time; instead, we’ve moved forward. Rather than a doctor knocking on your home with a stethoscope and wooden tongue depressor in tow, today’s house calls require no face-to-face appointments, only a smartphone with an xfinity internet connection. Telemedicine has arrived.
Telemedicine has fast become an important part of our new-normal, owing to its convenience, as well as the growing need to provide continuity of care to patients with chronic conditions in the face of a global pandemic. Moving forward, there will be a significant number of patients where it will not make sense to have them physically come into a doctor’s office when they can get the same level of care by simply doing a video visit with their physician. This, in part, accounts for the meteoric rise of telehealth.
Moreover, public health researchers have long understood that healthcare outcomes are different across various ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Now, many in the medical community are starting to realize that the broad adoption of telemedicine across the system could be a great “equalizer.” This is particularly true for communities that have historically struggled to access care –remote rural or underserved urban communities. There’s great hope that telemedicine could be one development that helps bridge a persistent divide in outcomes, so long as accessing it is easy and inexpensive for patients.
Despite the many positives, most patients have yet to have their first telemedicine visit. And it’s understandable that some may view telemedicine as a challenge, due to either their lack of confidence with technology or not feeling that they have the resources to connect with their doctor remotely. These concerns are valid but the telemedicine options available today make it a simple and reliable option for the broadest possible number of patients.
As a practicing internist, I’ve conducted many telehealth visits, so I’ve seen the potential for telemedicine directly in my own medical practice. I’ve also had the privilege of helping patients with the basics of getting started with their first telehealth appointment.
Here are five things you can do as a patient to help prepare for your first virtual visit with your doctor:
- Test your tech: As a patient, you don’t need much to get started but your virtual visits will require a basic familiarity with video conferencing on a device or smartphone. Telemedicine at its core is simply a video call with your doctor and though the device you use is up to you, it’s important that your internet connection – either WiFi or cellular — is fast enough to do the call. Your doctor or a hospital staff member may discuss the connection process in advance, so give it a test before your first appointment. If you need to download an app, you should do it prior to your visit. Depending on the platform your doctor uses, you may need to have the app already downloaded on your phone and registered as a new user. That’s why at Doximity, we built Dialer Video to make telemedicine visits easy. If your doctor uses Dialer Video, you’ll receive a text message with a link and all you have to do is tap it. Every platform is different, so just ask your provider in advance in case there are any special requirements.
- Prepare questions in advance: Telemedicine visits are typically about 20% shorter than in-person appointments. As with any in-person visit with your doctor, maximize your time by preparing questions you may have in advance of your appointment. Set an agenda and have your questions handy during the call to ensure you get everything answered.
- Check coverage and co-pays with your insurance provider: Insurance coverage for telemedicine visits vary. Medicare, for example, covers all Covid-19 related telemedicine visits, yet some private insurers may not. Efforts by insurance providers to update coverage policies amidst the surge in telemedicine has created a patchwork of policies that aren’t always clear. Be sure to contact your providers before your first telemedicine visit to double check what’s covered under your plan.
- Get comfortable: We doctors try to make our offices and clinics as inviting as possible but nothing is as comfortable as your home. That said, telemedicine visits are subject to HIPAA and are private matters, so be sure to find a quiet, discreet space to take the call and use headphones or earbuds if possible. Find a place with good lighting so your doctor can see you and any visible concerns you may have,
Wear clothing that is easy to move in so you’re best able to participate in a physical exam.
- Be prepared to talk about follow-up care: Before ending the video call, make sure that you’ve discussed clear next steps (if applicable) with your doctor. Have a clear understanding of how to get in touch with them and understand where and how to get necessary prescriptions. You can always check in with the admin staff of your doctor’s office after your telehealth visit if you’d like written paperwork for follow-up purposes.
House calls are back and are here to stay – but they aren’t the kind your grandparents had. Research shows telemedicine offers a wide range of efficiency and accessibility benefits for both patients and physicians. Your first visit can seem daunting, but by following simple steps and treating your virtual visit as an extension of the in-person care you’ve always received, it can be an easy and efficient way for you to see your doctor.