What to Expect from a Telemedicine Primary Care Appointment - MDVIP
While telemedicine isn’t exactly new, some patients are experiencing virtual visits for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic. Why? Many primary care physicians and specialists are using telemedicine appointments in lieu of traditional in-office visits to keep patients, doctors and their staffs safe during this time. Doctors have also been able to offer more telemedicine visits because certain restrictions have been temporarily relaxed during the pandemic.
So, what should you expect during a telemedicine visit? How should you prepare for a virtual health care visit? What are the advantages and how can you get the most out of an online appointment?
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine uses telecommunications technology to have a virtual appointment with your primary care physician without leaving home. All you need is a computer, tablet or mobile phone and an Internet connection. A live video chat is the most common way to have a telehealth visit (though you can also have a visit over a phone). You and your doctor see each other without your having to leave home. Your doctor may provide you with a link to a secure website like Doxy.me, contact you through your healthcare portal or connect with Zoom, Skype or some other video chat application. Other options, depending on the type of visit, are to simply talk by phone or use chat messaging.
Telemedicine falls under the umbrella term telehealth. Telehealth includes virtual visits (like described above) and other aspects like remote patient monitoring, which makes it possible for your primary care doctor to track, in real-time, vital statistics related to certain health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. If, for instance, you have hypertension, occasional blood pressure checks during office visits may not be enough. Your doctor may ask you to use a digital blood pressure cuff, which sends your blood pressure and pulse readings to your doctor each time you measure it. A record of readings over time enables your doctor to give you feedback on how you’re doing in your efforts to lower your blood pressure, and to make him aware of any sudden changes. Partnering with your primary care doctor with this technology is an excellent way to track ongoing problems and take steps to manage them.
What are the Advantages of Virtual Office Visits?
The biggest advantage of telemedicine visits — especially during the coronavirus, when people are advised to social distance — is that you can avoid a trip to your doctor’s office and being around other people who may be sick.
Conversely, you protect others if you’re not feeling well. With a virtual visit the doctor can see how you look (don’t be surprised if he asks you to open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue in front of the camera) and have you take your temperature, among other things. An ability to assess your health virtually and prescribe treatment may eliminate a trip to the ER. Other plusses include no time spent traveling or sitting in a crowded waiting room. This can be a boon to parents with children and those in multigenerational households, since it means less exposure to the virus and eliminates the need for temporary care. It also helps single, older patients who may struggle to get to doctor’s appointments in the best of times.
There are some disadvantages to telemedicine visits. For example, you may not see your doctor or may see a medical extender like a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. There are tests and follow ups that cannot be done remotely and may aid in your diagnosis. And virtual visits may not allow the doctor to fully examine you or pick up on things that can usually only be observed in an in-person visit. If you’re doctor has a hard time figuring out how to help you, be prepared to go to their practice.
When to use a Telehealth Visit
While your primary care doctor can’t do everything from afar, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that these services work well for virtual visits:
- Screening for COVID-19, testing recommendations and guidance on isolation or quarantine
- General health care (i.e. wellness visits, blood pressure control, advice about certain non-emergency illnesses, like nausea, common rashes or sinusitis)
- Prescriptions for medication
- Nutrition counseling
- Mental health counseling
How to Schedule a Virtual Doctor’s Visit
Start with your primary care physician. You’ll want to ask:
- Are you offering telemedicine visits?
- Is a video chat a good option for my health concern?
- How do I schedule a visit and how will we connect?
If your doctor doesn’t offer telehealth services, your health insurer may be able to help you find in-network doctors who provide telemedicine visits. Alternatively, your insurer may refer you to one of several telehealth companies that operate through web-based portals or apps that can be downloaded onto your phone.
MDVIP-affiliated doctors have been available after hours and on weekends by phone for 20 years. Many have adopted virtual visits on various platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you join an MDVIP-affiliated practice, just ask your doctor how he or she handles remote visits.
How to Prepare for a Telemedicine Appointment
Here are a few guidelines to get started, in addition to any instructions your primary care doctor provides:
1. Find a quiet, private place. If you have kids at home, get them settled with a quiet activity. Be sure the dog is walked. To maintain confidentiality situate yourself where you won’t be overheard.
2. Prepare your space. There should be adequate lighting so that your physician can see you clearly. Position your computer so that your face is centered on the screen at eye level. You may need to place a couple of books under it to get it to eye level. If you’re using a tablet or cell phone put it on a stand or prop it up for stability to keep your hands free.
3. Be sure your electronic device is not on mute; set the volume so that you can easily hear your doctor.
4. Just as you would for an in-person visit, make a list of your questions. Have a notebook and pen handy to take notes.
5. Wear loose clothing and have a flashlight handy to help show areas that your doctor may need to examine.
6. Don’t eat or drink during the session.
7. During the visit, be sure to let your doctor know if you can’t hear or see him clearly. If there’s a problem with your connection, you may need to continue your visit on the phone.
8. If you schedule a telehealth appointment with a physician who is not your regular provider, have on hand a list of the medications you take. If you book an appointment with a telehealth company, you may be asked to answer questions before you start your session.
Does My Health Insurance Cover Telehealth Visits?
Before the coronavirus pandemic there was little interest among doctors to deliver health care and for patients to receive it through virtual visits. Patients want to see their doctors and build a bond with them. Doctors likewise are limited to the degree of care they can provide from a distance. Certain types of illnesses require face-to-face visits. Tests may be needed. A physical exam is required. But now there’s a new normal that everyone’s trying to adjust to, both in how health care is delivered and how insurance companies reimburse providers.
Not all health insurance companies have paid for all telehealth services in the past. A good deal of telehealth policy which effects Medicaid and fully-insured private plans is decided by state laws. Federal regulations oversee reimbursements to Medicare and self-insured plans. With the current pandemic many large health insurers relaxed co-pays to encourage telemedicine visits, but that may now be changing. Before agreeing to a virtual office visit, check to see what your health insurer will cover.
Telemedicine has its place in health care, but it’s not the same as a one-on-one visit with your trusted primary care doctor. MDVIP-affiliated physicians have been using telemedicine for 20 years to stay in touch with patients, answering calls after hours and on weekends. Many have adopted new telemedicine technology during the recent pandemic in order to see patients remotely.
Don’t have a doctor? Consider partnering with MDVIP. Because your MDVIP-affiliated physician really knows you, they can use telehealth tools to help diagnose and treat medical issues as they come up, keeping you both on the same page whether you’re in the exam room or somewhere else.