4 ways to get the most out of your telehealth visit
You need to show off that nagging wound on your hour-long lunch break. But the doctor’s office is half an hour away, not to mention the traffic. Don’t worry, as we’ve all learned during the pandemic, seeing a doctor remotely via electronic device is easier than ever.
Telehealth (or telemedicine) has been around in one form or another for decades, but it has become a necessity during the COVID-19 shutdowns. Now, with in-person activities mostly back to normal, many physicians continue to offer phone and video chat options for certain types of visits, making it easier to get the care you need at the moment. instead of going to a medical center in the middle of your working day.
The average length of a doctor-led telehealth appointment is 15 minutes, according to a study by the University of Michigan. Compare that to the 121 minutes spent at the doctor’s in the office, of which only 20 minutes was to see a doctor, the rest being taken up by traveling and waiting, according to The American Journal of Managed Care.
Saving time is a huge plus, but not if going the fast lane compromises your standard of care. The key to making those 15 minutes count is some simple prep work before talking to your doctor.
Can getting examined by a doctor who is literally in a different zip code really be as effective as an in-person examination?
“As a provider who practiced telehealth before the pandemic, I saw firsthand how reluctant patients were. [to use the telehealth option]says Eric Ascher, DO, a family physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “Since Covid, patients have found telehealth visits much more appealing as a way to save time, have flexibility in appointment times and maintain safety during Covid peaks.”
More than half of men have tried telehealth visits in the past two years, and reviews are mixed as to whether or not they see it as a good way to manage their health. In a nationwide survey of more than 1,500 men by Hearst Media, the parent company of men’s health, only 35% of men who tried telehealth liked it as much as in-person visits, while only 13% preferred it over in-person. Overall, 79% of men feel their care is better when they see the doctor in person.
Of course, we’re all used to visiting a doctor’s office, so it’s understandable to be skeptical about phone and video appointments. Can getting examined by a doctor who is literally in a different zip code really be as effective as an in-person examination?
Yes, provided you actively participate in the process and supplement your telehealth appointments with in-person visits as needed. Whether you book an electronic appointment out of preference or out of necessity, you can make it better for you and all of your medical needs. Below are four tips from telehealth providers on how to maximize your virtual doctor visits for the best treatment possible.
1. Show up prepared
First of all. Test your technology, says Barbara Bawer, MD, a family physician at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Is your internet connection working properly?” Do you know how to log in correctly? Does your microphone work? Is there good lighting in the room? ” she says. Failing to address these issues ahead of time can cost you valuable time as you scramble to upgrade your technology.
Another suggestion from Dr. Bawer: keep your medications handy so you know their names and doses if asked. She also suggests that you “write out a list of your complaints and concerns, and list them in order from most important to least important.” That way, if you get interrupted or run out of time, you’ll know you’ve at least covered the main issues.
Also consider your location. Pick a quiet place where you (a) won’t be disturbed and (b) can talk freely about what’s hurting you, says Erin McNeely, MD, internal medicine physician at Spectrum Health in Grandville, Michigan. It can be any number of points. “I’ve visited patients in their homes, outdoors and even with them in their parked cars,” she says, adding, “but please don’t expect to have a virtual visit in driving.”
List your concerns in order of most important to least important, in case you run out of time.
Dr. McNeely recommends being five to 15 minutes early for your virtual tour, just in case you have connection issues or think there’s a chance you’ll forget to clock in on time. Keep the browser window open on your computer or mute your phone while you wait. “Think of it as traffic or a detour if you were on your way to the physical clinic,” she says. “You want to be sure you arrive on time and don’t miss your appointment.”
2. Choose the video
Telehealth is convenient whether you do it by phone or video. If you have a choice between the two, go with the latter, says Isabel Valdez, PA-C, assistant professor of general internal medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “Most often a video visit is better than a phone call because we can tell a lot about the patient just by looking at them on camera, such as changes in breathing, rashes or swelling of a particular area” , she says. “I also use video tours for patients to show me how they use devices such as asthma inhalers. Some patients use them incorrectly, and seeing their technique on video gives us the opportunity to improve how the medicine is delivered so they can start to feel better.
Turn on your camera. Your doctor can tell a lot just by looking at you, such as if you have changes in breathing, rashes, or swelling in a particular area.
When you meet by video, think about what you’re wearing. If you have a physical problem, Dr. McNeely says to make sure you can actually show it. For example, wear pants that you can easily roll up if you’re discussing a rash on your calf. “We can tell a lot about videos for things like rashes, swelling, and other injuries,” says Dr. McNeely. “Your provider may also ask you to move or press certain areas to check for pain.” For this reason, she says, it’s a good idea to “make sure you’re in a space where you can move around a bit.”
3. Go remote for sexual health issues
Discussing sensitive topics like sexual health can be awkward in person, especially if you don’t know your provider well. This makes telehealth a convenient and comforting option. The Hearst survey results reflect this, at least for younger men: 52% of men aged 18 to 34 chose to talk about sexual health issues with a doctor by phone or video, compared to 36% for 35-54 year olds, and only 6% for men aged 55 and over.
If your problem doesn’t require a physical exam, there’s really no downside to telehealth. Dr. Ascher says any sexual health issues will be discussed the same way you would go to your doctor. “Your doctor will ask you lots of questions, not because they’re nosy, but because it will help them better understand your concerns, diagnose, and then treat,” he says. “I always remind my patients that I am not prying. I’m just trying to understand better.
Discuss any sexual health issue the same way you would go to your doctor.
If you need lab work, your doctor can order it after your telehealth visit. From there, test results and next steps would happen the same way over the phone or video chat as they do in the office, Dr. Ascher says.
Dr. Bawer points out that “everything you tell a provider is confidential”, whether you see your doctor in person or connect via telemedicine, “so you can feel comfortable that we won’t share it with anyone. “.
4. Always have in-person exams
Despite the aforementioned benefits of telehealth, men in the Hearst survey are clearly supportive of traditional doctor visits: four in five men believe they get better care in person than over the phone or video.
That’s a big number — 80% — and Dr. Ascher admits it’s best to seek care in person in some situations. “You shouldn’t do an annual exam via telehealth unless you follow up with an in-person visit,” he says. “Most annual visits require a full physical examination, which is limited by the nature of telehealth.” This often involves the doctor manually inspecting certain parts of the body, checking your vital signs, and possibly performing blood tests and an EKG. “A physical exam is very important, because doctors are trained to examine,” he adds.
Establish a face-to-face relationship with your provider before moving to telehealth.
That doesn’t mean you should cancel telehealth. Experts point out that you can still receive quality care from a distance if you take an active role in the process. “Make sure to engage the conversation during the telemedicine visit,” says Dr. Bawer. “I find that many patients multi-task during their visits, such as washing dishes, eating or even driving. You wouldn’t do this on an in-person tour, so don’t do this for a virtual tour. It can send a message to the doctor that you don’t really care.
It may also be helpful to establish a face-to-face relationship with your provider before switching to telehealth. “Once the provider knows you,” says Dr. Bawer, “you can have as great of an experience virtually as in person.”
Whether you’re sold on the concept or not, telemedicine is here to stay. And visits should only get better over time, says Dr. Ascher. “Telehealth is still new to many providers,” he points out. “So suppliers are adapting as well.”
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, health and sex, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives near the beach, and hopes to one day own a teacup pig and a taco truck.