aidarrowcaretcheckclipboardcommenterrorexperienceeyegooglegownmicroscopenavigatepillTimer IconSearchshare-emailFacebookLinkedInTwitterx

How to Prepare for Any Telehealth Visit

Kelsey Tyler

In the age of the coronavirus, doctors are increasingly encouraging patients to book video appointments when they can, rather than coming into the office. A virtual appointment keeps healthy patients safe by keeping them away from sick ones. It also helps doctors stay in fighting form so they can continue providing care.

Telehealth is more accessible now than it’s ever been. To get the most out of virtual care, it helps to prepare. You don’t want spotty internet, or any other distraction, to steal time or focus during your appointment. Efficiency is especially important right now, says Dr. Steven Waldren, a family physician and vice president and chief medical informatics officer with the American Academy of Family Physicians. “Given the current climate, a lot of doctors are going to be much busier than they’ve been in the past.”

Whether you need a professional opinion on a lingering sinus infection or you’re logging on for a therapy session, here are 11 tips to help you get ready to see a doctor on screen. 

1. Set up your tech

Your first step is to figure out what technology you’ll use. You’ll need a smartphone or a computer with a video camera and a reliable internet connection. For people who are less savvy with technology, a smartphone may be easier since its microphone and camera are better integrated. It’s less technology to worry about, says Waldren.

2. Do a test run

With so many people working from home, internet connections can be slow. Test your Wi-Fi by streaming a YouTube video on your device, Waldren says. If the video doesn’t play well, ask the people you’re with to curb their internet use during your virtual visit. You can also do a trial run of a video call, depending on the platform your doctor uses. If your visit is over Zoom, for example, you can sign up and create a fake meeting beforehand with a friend to familiarize yourself with the platform.

3. Check your telehealth coverage

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, the federal government (temporarily) made telehealth much easier for Medicare recipients: Patients can now do e-visits at home, with doctors in any state, using whichever video conferencing platform they want, including Zoom or even FaceTime. Additionally, many private insurance companies are encouraging telehealth by lowering or even eliminating costs for video visits. Aetna, for example, is waiving cost-sharing for covered telehealth visits until June 4. Other insurers are taking similar measures — here’s a useful resource if you have a private health plan. If you’re a Medicaid recipient, here’s an overview of state-by-state telehealth coverage.

Right now, seeing a doctor online should be easy and affordable for most (hopefully all) patients, but you may still want to get confirmation from your insurance company beforehand.

4. Document your symptoms

Make a list of any symptoms you’re having and when they started. If you have a thermometer, take your temperature. Weigh yourself if you have a scale, and if you have a blood pressure monitor because you regularly monitor it yourself, take that too. Note any medicine you’ve taken and when you took the last dose. 

If you’re seeing a doctor for the first time, write out your medical history, says Dr. Michael Buxbaum, a board certified family practice physician in Houston. Include information about illnesses, hospitalizations, allergies and surgeries. You can send data to your doctor through a patient portal on the day of your appointment. But “don’t expect they had time to look at it beforehand,” Waldren says, so mention any data you send during your appointment as well.

5. Write out your questions and concerns

Prepare a list of questions or concerns before you log on and put them in order of importance, expecting up to the top three to be addressed. “People can get nervous on a call, so definitely make a list of questions,” says Nicole Splenser, a physician’s assistant at the VA Hospital in Houston. Think about whether you might need refills on any of your medications. Also, have your pharmacy phone number and address easily accessible, Buxbaum says.

6, Gather your medications and devices

During your visit, have your current medications in front of you, or at least a list of what you’re taking. Err on the side of being over prepared. If your list doesn’t include details like dosage or brand, have the bottles on hand instead. That’s especially important if your visit is with someone who isn’t your regular physician, Waldren says. If you have any devices you need help with, like a blood glucose monitor, make sure you have that nearby too.

7. Print out any lab results

If you’re going over blood work with your provider, print out the report from your patient portal so you don’t have to search for it during your appointment. If you don’t have a copy, ask your doctor to send it to you ahead of time.

8. Find a quiet spot

Find a place where you won’t be interrupted, somewhere you can have an open and honest conversation with your provider. Limit any distractions in the room you’re in. Turn off any music that’s playing in the background, and save your lunch until after your appointment is over. Don’t take your telemedicine phone call while driving, shopping, or otherwise preoccupied, says Dr. Siobahn Hruby, an internist in Little Rock, Arkansas.

9. Prep your device

A few hours before your appointment, make sure the device you plan to use is fully charged. Ten minutes before your visit, close any programs or applications that might slow down your device. Turn up your volume, and temporarily disable any notifications that could pop up and disrupt your call, like social media alerts. Plan to connect a few minutes early just in case you have any technical issues you need to address, and be patient if the doctor doesn’t join the call exactly on time. “Doctors may be busy or running behind,” says Hruby, so don’t get anxious if the call comes a bit late.”

10. Take notes

Use a pen and paper to jot down notes during your appointment instead of taking notes on your computer. That can be easier than trying to toggle between typing into a word document and engaging with the video conferencing platform. Just like with in-person visits, elderly patients or those with memory problems should have an adult family member present to help take notes, answer questions, and plan logistics for treatment, Hruby says.

11. Follow up

If your doctor wants to see you again, call the office right away to make an appointment. If you have additional questions, send them through the patient portal. If you can’t remember what you discussed during your appointment, make a note to look at your doctor’s assessment and care plan in the portal. If you don’t use a portal, you can always ask your doctor to send you a copy of her appointment notes. 

No comments. Share your thoughts!

Leave a Comment

About us

The Paper Gown, a Zocdoc-powered blog, strives to tell stories that help patients feel informed, empowered and understood. Views and opinions expressed on The Paper Gown do not necessarily reflect those of Zocdoc, Inc. Learn more.