Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, telehealth visits conducted via video calls are becoming more common than ever, and more insurance companies are covering them, too. The annual physical you once had in a doctor’s office may now be taking place over your webcam instead. You may be wondering how you can make the most of your telehealth appointment and make it easier for your nurse, doctor or other professional in cotton scrubs. Here are seven things that you can do to improve the experience on both sides.

1. Know what you want to talk about.

Just as with an in-person visit, you should come to your telehealth appointment prepared to discuss your health concerns. Make a list of everything that you want to cover, and prioritize them from most to least important. If you’ve been exhibiting symptoms, track them in the weeks leading up to the appointment and keep a log of them so you can note any trends over time. Have your notes with you, as well as a working pen or another way to jot down things during the appointment. This will maximize your appointment time and help your doctor or nurse treat you more efficiently.

2. Test the telehealth service beforehand.

If you’ve never had a telehealth appointment before, download the software or create an account and log in before your appointment begins. You won’t be able to actually video chat your provider until the appointment starts, but you can familiarize yourself with the platform and make sure that your camera is working. Depending on what service your provider uses, you might also be able to message your providers, schedule an appointment without having to call and more. If you have any trouble with the platform, contact tech support and try to get it resolved before the day of the appointment.

3. Get a strong internet connection.

Video calls require a strong internet connection, so run a speed test to ensure that your internet connection can support your video call without dropping. If your internet connection is weak, you might need to ask other people in your household to refrain from streaming videos and other activities that take up bandwidth when you’re in your telehealth appointment. If your Wifi is still weak and you’re the only person on it, you might need to look into upgrading your plan, getting a better router or installing a signal booster to extend the range of the Wifi.

4. Choose a quiet room.

Selecting the right room is equally important to having a good internet connection. Choose a quiet space with a door that can close so you won’t be interrupted. If you have pets, put them in their kennels or a separate room for the duration of the call. Let your partners, roommates, and children know that you’ll be on a call and that they shouldn’t interrupt you. Make sure that the room is clean, double-check that the background behind you is plain and professional (a blank wall is fine) and confirm that you have good lighting so your provider will be able to see you clearly.

5. Log in early.

Don’t wait until the last minute to log into the platform in case you have any unforeseen technical difficulties. Five to 10 minutes before your appointment is supposed to start, get set up in your room and go ahead and log in. There may be a virtual waiting room where you can chill. If not, you can just sit on the platform. Try not to get distracted by social media or other websites. You don’t want to miss the start of your appointment! If you have any medical devices your provider will need to look at, set those out on the table so you can easily access them during the appointment.

6. Volunteer to offer feedback.

Many health care providers have only recently installed telehealth platforms, and may still be working out the kinks. You may receive a survey after your appointment asking you how the telehealth visit went. If you’d like to help your providers improve the platforms, be sure to fill that out and let them know how it went from the patient side. If they aren’t sending out a survey, you can suggest the idea to them, or offer to provide more informal feedback via email or another way. After all, the whole point of health care is to improve patient outcomes–so as the patient, your opinion matters.

7. Know when you need an in-person visit.

Telehealth is a great technology, and it offers many advantages over in-person visits. However, sometimes you simply need to see a medical professional in person. An emergency is an emergency, so if you have sudden chest pain, weakness on one side of the face or body, or sudden difficulty breathing, you need to go to the emergency room or call 911 immediately. Your doctor may also prescribe some in-person visits, such as bloodwork and other tests, that cannot be conducted virtually. Use common sense and schedule an appointment in the office when it can’t be taken care of virtually.

A nurse can’t listen to your lungs with their stethoscope via a telehealth visit, but there are many positive aspects of virtual appointments. Telehealth keeps both providers and patients safe from a contagion, and increases access to care for patients who have trouble leaving the house for one reason or another. If you’re new to telehealth, or just looking to have a good experience during your next appointment, follow the seven tips outlined here. Your provider will appreciate all the prep work that you did and you’ll be way more likely to have a positive telehealth appointment.

Deborah Swanson
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