Telehealth has been a rising trend in the healthcare industry for the last five-plus years. But up until now, growth has been slow and steady. With COVID-19, experts are anticipating a massive shift to virtual medicine in the coming months and years. As a patient, what do you need to know?
What is Telemedicine?
The telemedicine field is changing rapidly. And like any tech-based field, it’s hard to know precisely where it’ll pivot or iterate over a period of 12-24 months. But in the most basic sense, telemedicine is a healthcare system by which doctors and physicians can provide remote diagnosis and treatment for select health conditions via the interent.
“Telemedicine isn’t appropriate for emergency situations like heart attack or stroke, cuts or lacerations, or broken bones that require x-rays, splints, or casts,” GoodRx explains. “Anything that requires immediate, hands-on care should be handled in person. However, telemedicine is very useful for simple issues and follow-up consultations.”
It’s commonly used to address things like cold and flu, sinus pressure and pain, red eyes, and even conditions like back pain, heartburn, and diarrhea (though some of doctors require the individual to be an established patient in order to get certain types of care virtually).
Telemedicine visits, or virtual doctor’s appointments, are typically done through some sort of portal or platform that’s integrated into the doctor’s larger healthcare management system. Many visits are done via webcam, so that the doctor and patient can see and talk to one another. However, there are instances where visits can be done over chat, via questionnaires, or strictly by audio.
How Patients Can Prepare for an E-Visit
Millions of patients are just getting used to the idea of participating in e-visits. If you’re one of the many who are preparing for a first-time visit, the following tips will help you feel more confident.
- Read Up on the Process
Every telemedicine experience will be different. Doctors have their own processes and requirements, so it’s best to read up prior to scheduling your appointment.
Rush University Medical Center, which has been one of the early movers in this space, is a great example. E-visits at Rush look like this: Create/login to your online account; start the online visit; fill out a secure online questionnaire based on symptoms/medial history; get a diagnosis and treatment plan within an hour.
Rush chooses to do their e-visits without webcams and live interaction. Other doctors may require webcams and audio. It all depends on the provider – so it’s helpful to do your research ahead of time.
- Gather All of Your Information
If this is your first time seeing a doctor from this office, they probably don’t have your medical records on file. Do your best to gather this information so that you’ll have it readily available if asked. It’s also smart to familiarize yourself with your family history and past medical issues. This will help the doctor gain a more complete picture of your situation.
- Make a List of Symptoms
Next, make a comprehensive list of all the symptoms you’re experiencing at the moment. Be as thorough as possible. (Don’t just say you have a fever – actually write down the temperature readings and how they’ve fluctuated over the past few hours.)
- Check Your Technology
Telemedicine is only helpful if you have the right technology in place. Find out what technology you’ll be using so that you can double-check that everything is functional. This may include a phone, tablet, computer, webcam, microphone, speakers, internet connection, etc.
- Ask Questions and Take Notes
Your first e-visit might seem different and strange, but don’t let that scare you. Ask questions, listen to what your doctor tells you, and take notes. This is your time. Don’t feel like you’re rushed or that you’re wasting someone’s time. All of your focus should be on the appointment at hand.
Welcome to the Future
There will always be times when you need to see a doctor in person. Broken arms, open wounds, and serious illnesses require direct treatment. Having said that, telemedicine is quickly becoming a preferred method of care for less serious medical issues. Doctors love it because it’s quick and convenient. Patients prefer it because it saves time and money. And when doctors and patients can agree on something, that’s a pretty good start!