Tips to help you prepare for your telehealth appointment

May 26, 2020 in Disease Management  •  By Miles Varn, MD

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and concern about being exposed to the virus, more people are using telehealth or virtual visits rather than in-person visits with their doctors. Physicians in a wide range of specialties, from primary care and pediatrics to cardiology, oncology, and mental health, are offering their patients the option of conducting some types of appointments virtually. And many people in the healthcare field expect the use of telehealth to continue to be offered as an option even after the pandemic wanes.

To get the most out of a virtual physician visit, it’s helpful to do some preparation before your appointment. Some of the steps you should take are similar to ones you’d take preparing for an in-person appointment, but some are unique to receiving care virtually.

  • Do an equipment check. Although some physicians conduct virtual appointments by phone, which can work well for specialties like mental health where it’s not essential that the physician and patient be able to see each other, many visits will include the use of video. Find out if there’s an app you need to download or a portal you’ll need to sign into for your visit and get that set up and tested before your scheduled appointment. You’ll also need good Wi-Fi for streaming video. If you don’t have a strong signal, try moving closer to your router. If you’re using a laptop for your visit, you can try plugging it directly into the router for a faster, more stable connection. At the beginning of the appointment, ask the doctor what you should do if you get disconnected during the visit.
  • Choose a quiet, well-lit spot. With families and roommates home all day in many cases, your home may be busier and noisier than usual. It’s important that you and your physician can clearly hear each other, so find a quiet place for your telehealth appointment where you won’t have to contend with noisy interruptions and distractions. Using earphones can make it easier to hear what your doctor says. A more secluded spot also helps protect your privacy. Good lighting is also essential so your doctor can see any symptoms you need assessed. Make sure you don’t position yourself with a bright light or window directly behind you though because that can wash the image out.
  • Make a list of symptoms and concerns. Before your appointment, write a list of all the symptoms you’ve been experiencing, treatments you’ve tried, and questions you have. Include how long you’ve had the symptoms and whether they’ve stayed the same or gotten more severe. If your appointment is focused on a chronic condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart failure, you will need to provide your doctor with information such as your blood sugar level, blood pressure, and weight, so make sure you have the equipment you need to gather this information on hand.
  • Be ready to provide information from your medical history. If your telehealth visit is not with a physician you usually see, you will need to provide information about your medical and family history. If your regular healthcare providers offer a patient portal, you can access your medical records there. If not, you may be able to contact them and ask them to send your record to you via secure email before your appointment. In addition to your health history, information you should be ready to share includes the prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and supplements you take; your primary care physician’s contact information so the records from your virtual visit can be shared with him or her, and the phone number and address of your pharmacy. You’ll also need to provide your health insurance information.
  • Ask about follow up. At the end of the appointment, ask the doctor when you should follow up. If she or he refers you for lab or imaging tests, find out how and when you’ll receive the results.

Of course, there are situations where telehealth isn’t an option. If you’re experiencing an emergency like chest pain, potential stroke symptoms, a serious injury or broken bone, you will need in-person assessment and care at the emergency room. Call ahead and find out what the hospital’s procedure is for handling emergencies during the pandemic. Many use different entrances for patients with non-COVID-19 related emergencies.