Virtual healthcare visit: How to prepare, what to expect

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Even before COVID-19, healthcare providers were seeking better ways to increase the availability of care, especially for those who had difficulty traveling to an appointment. With the safety precautions now in place to reduce exposure to COVID, virtual or electronic medical appointments have become accepted. Both Medicare/Medicaid and private insurance companies now recognize and cover these appointments because they realize that staying connected with your provider is a critical goal of healthcare. Keeping people at home, away from potential COVID exposure, and being proactive with healthcare are the positive results of a virtual house-call.

When offered an online or telephone appointment with your doctor, establishing a few critical communication issues before the call is essential. Will you be speaking with the doctor on the phone only, or will it be on a Health Care Portal from the hospital, or a Zoom, Skype, or Facetime call where you are looking at each other? Ask what technology is needed and be sure that your computer is ready to handle the requirements. Check to see if you have the correct app downloaded on your laptop or desktop, if your screen has a camera, and if you know how to adjust all settings.

Know the number that the call is coming in from, as it may not be the number or name you recognize as your doctor’s. If your call is recorded, ask if it is HIPPA secured. Be sure to have the volume adjusted before the call, and the camera aligned with your face. If the doctor is going to be looking at a particular problem on your body, be sure you wear loose clothing and that you are in a private location. Try to choose your location so that neither the bright sun nor a shadow is on you, and the background should be plain and quiet and not distracting with noises from television, children or pets. You may also ask if someone else may be with you to help walk through the technology and the information requested and given. Just as you have someone accompany you to the doctor’s office, the second set of eyes and ears is good to have.

Before the appointment, ask the office if you need to complete any paperwork on the portal or through an email. Ask if you will need to take your vitals, such as your weight, blood pressure and O2 readings. Do you have the necessary equipment to take these, or do you need to purchase and learn how to use them? Have your insurance information available if you have not given it before the appointment.

Not to worry, you are not the only beginner in this process. The doctor is learning how best to talk to you and gather information at the same time you are learning how to address all issues. Make a list of things you want to discuss, any new concerns, any pain, any changes in any health or personal status. Have your medications, including over the counter ones, with you. Be sure you note any changes you have made in how and when you are taking them. Have the name, phone and address of your pharmacy. Be sure to mention how you are handling the social distancing from your friends and family. How you are coping with events has a powerful effect on your physical status. 

On your notes, write down what you expect from the appointment. At the end of the session, check to see if you understand everything the doctor has said and repeat back any instructions or medicine changes. Ask what the follow up will be, when you will be seen again, and if any lab work is needed. If there is a portal, ask when the visit notes will be available so you can double-check all information there.

We are fortunate that we have the technology to receive a house call electronically. It is so good to have a one-on-one conversation with your doctor who knows you and your medical history and can monitor your health this way. These virtual appointments help us avoid a potential healthcare emergency or an anxious trip to the emergency room. The virtual house-call is one positive outcome of the pandemic.

Prepared by Nancy Scheetz, APRN, Executive Director, Farmington Valley Visiting Nurse Association.