Even before the challenges of COVID-19 making in-person activities more difficult, telehealth was already becoming a common occurrence. Being able to consult with a nurse, psychologist, or doctor without having to leave your home is an enormous timesaver, especially if you feel sick. For people who are contagious or extremely ill, distance communication is preferable for everyone involved.
To make the most out of the benefits of telehealth for patients, you need to prepare beforehand. A few simple steps can make your telehealth visit more productive, less stressful, and overall better for diagnosis.
1 - Make a list of symptoms AND any recent changes
Once you start feeling discomfort, take note of everything both in the recent past and the present. Have you recently eaten a new food, or changed your routine in any way. For a doctor to make an accurate diagnosis, they need all the information you can provide. Additionally, something that might not seem related to you could turn out to be the difference between a diagnosis and a mystery.
2 - List your medical information
Unless you're telehealthing with your normal GP, it's a good idea to provide all information regarding chronic illness and medication. It might be one key factor that you unintentionally leave out that could cloud the diagnosis. Make sure you plan ahead and include everything you take, including vitamins and supplements, and medicines you may only take occasionally.
3 - Make sure you're in a quiet spot
This is important, not only for privacy's sake, but also because it's hard to have a conversation if you're constantly distracted. Tell your family you need a room to yourself for an hour and find the quietest room in the house. This helps keep your attention focused on the visit, preventing you from forgetting to tell your doctor something important.
If you can't secure a quiet spot, do your telehealth visit in your vehicle. It's quiet, private, and you can park it anywhere.
4 - Get your vitals, if possible
There are plenty of free or inexpensive apps that can use your smartphone's camera to record your heart rate or blood pressure. Even if you don't have a monitor at home, you can get a reading at most pharmacies for free. Additionally, take your most recent weight and know your height. Any significant weight change can be an important factor in some diagnoses.
5 - Ensure your doctor is using a secure communication platform
You don't want anyone hacking into or listening to your private medical appointment or taking your data. Verify that your doctor's platform is safe and secure before you agree to hop onto a call.
6 - Get proper lighting
Making sure your doctor can see you in good lighting isn't about vanity - it can help them diagnose a problem. Skin color changes can indicate an underlying problem with your blood, heart, or liver among other things. Don't connect to your appointment from a shady basement or dark closet; get a light ring if you have to, but make sure your doctor can see your smiling face.
7 - Get your equipment set up and tested well beforehand
To ensure that there's no wasted time or a bad connection, test everything out at least 10 minutes beforehand. It's best to treat this visit like an in-person doctor's visit and "get there" at least 10 minutes early. Make sure your sound and video are working, and that your connection speed is good. Additionally, make sure whatever platform you're meeting on - Zoom, Skype, etc. - is up-to-date.
8 - Have a credit card handy
Just like an in-person visit, your telehealth visit might have you pay over the computer or phone. If your insurance mandates co-pays, don't be caught without a way to facilitate the transaction, as this just adds pointless wasted time to your visit.
9 - Go over your diagnosis and treatment
To ensure that you understand everything and you have not missed critical steps, go over what the doctor tells you. Take notes and repeat their course of treatment or follow-up testing with them so you know exactly how to proceed. This also shows the doctor that you understand and that you'll follow their guidance.
10 - Schedule any necessary follow-up appointments
Just because you're speaking virtually doesn't mean that the doctor's time won't fill up quickly. If you need to follow-up on a course of treatment, schedule it shortly after your visit if you can’t do it on the call.
Telehealth is a critically important tool in modern medicine
When you treat a telehealth visit like an in-person clinic appointment, it can be just as powerfully diagnostic. With a little preparation, telehealth is quick, responsive access to a medical professional that allows you to avoid leaving your home when you feel sick, are contagious, or simply don't want to change out of pajamas.