7 Things You Need to Know About Virtual Doctor's Visits

If you're about to have your first virtual visit with your doctor, here are the facts you need to know.

With social distancing practices in place, heading to your doctor's office for your annual checkup or if you're feeling under the weather is no longer possible. Instead, many doctors are turning to virtual appointments, which you've likely heard referred to as telehealth services. But if you've never done a virtual doctor's visit before, you probably have a lot of questions. How can you be sure you're getting the same quality of treatment you would in person? Does your insurance cover virtual appointments? And how will you get your prescriptions? To find out, we turned to the medical experts who know best about what you should know when it comes to virtual doctor's visits. Read on for their tips and answers to your burning questions. And for more ways to stay healthy right now, check out the 23 Easy Ways You Can Be a Healthier Person During Quarantine.

Your insurance probably covers a virtual doctor's visit.

health insurance

Before the coronavirus pandemic, many insurers did not cover telehealth appointments. However, much of that has changed now. According to James R. Powell, MD, CEO of Long Island Select Healthcare, both Medicaid and Medicare made changes in March and April to their policies in order to "encourage telehealth use for this emergency period," and many "commercial insurers are following suit."

"Ask your doctor's office whether they are providing telehealth as an alternative to an in-clinic visit, and whether it will be covered. Call your insurer to ask about telehealth coverage or go online to see your covered benefits. They may have updated their websites to reflect the answer to your questions," he says. "Many insurers have sent us letters letting us know that they will be covering telemedicine services until this crisis is over."

Your doctor can prescribe you most medicines over video.

Senior woman discusses her prescription medication with a doctor via video conference. The woman is using a digital tablet.

Nishant Rao, ND, chief medical officer for telehealth company Doc Talk Go, says as long as your doctor feels they can provide "the same standard care" as they would in-person and can make accurate conclusions via video, they are free to prescribe you medication you may need during this time. And these medications can either be mailed to your home or be made available for pickup at a local pharmacy. However, not all medications can be prescribed during a virtual visit.

"Controlled substances cannot be prescribed by telemedicine," Rao says. "Generally speaking, these are medicines that are addictive and have far more ability to result in abuse or addiction. Outside of that, it's very much case by case."

Doctors want you to go into the appointment with a purpose.

Cropped shot of a woman checking off tasks on a chore list at home

It's pivotal that you come to your visit with a purpose, according to Carley Gordon, owner of Peony Health Coordination. "The best thing you can do is go in with a goal—or a few goals—and a list of questions," she says. "Having a guiding purpose for the virtual visit is key and will keep you on track."

Seema Sarin, MD, of EHE Health also reminds patients to "write down a list of [their] symptoms" and to have their insurance card on hand during the appointment in case they need it. And for more to talk about with your doctor, check out 50 Questions You Should Always Ask Your Doctor After 50.

And they need you to have any available tools on hand.

Closeup of an unrecognizable man doing a reading of his blood pressure with a blood pressure monitor while being seated on a couch at home

You're probably used to having certain vital signs taken, like your blood pressure and your temperature, at most doctor's appointments. However, doctors aren't exactly able to take these measurements through your screen—so it's important you have the right tools at home. Nicole Washington, DO, psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Elocin Psychiatric Services, says to have a thermometer and blood pressure cuff on hand during the virtual call, if you have them available at home.

If not, Amanda Gorman, CRNP, founder of Nest Collaborative, says for some "longer term, chronic issues," your provider may be able to provide you with "specialized home monitoring equipment that can more accurately record these numbers."

Different medical offices will use different systems for calls.

Over the shoulder shot of a patient talking to a doctor using of a digital tablet

Just like different companies use different platforms for the same purpose, there are a wide variety of telehealth platforms your doctor could be using. Jesse P. Houghton, MD, of Southern Ohio Medical Center, advises patients to learn about how their specific appointment will be held by contacting the staff at their doctor's office prior to their virtual visit.

"My office uses a software called Doxy.me, however there are several other platforms that can be used," he says. Houghton's practice sends a text message to patients' phones before the appointment, containing a link for the video call. However, it's best to check with your medical provider about what methods and software they will be using. And for more about those in the medical field right now, check out these 10 Doctors and Nurses Reveal What It's Like Fighting COVID-19 Every Day.

And you should prepare for potential connection issues.

man Reading Bad News in Paper Letter Document, Troubled With Domestic Bills, Concerned About Bankruptcy Debt Money Problems. Tensed Senior Man Checking the Bills at Home While Using Laptop

Many patients and physicians alike worry about the possibility that a call will fail during an appointment, and many medical professionals will remind you of the possibility at the beginning of your virtual appointment. However, there are things you can do on your end to lessen the likelihood of tech issues.

If you're using a telehealth platform, Kellie Antinori-Lent, MSN, president of the Assocation of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists, suggests you ask your doctor's office "for the minimum bandwidth required to make sure you won't have connection issues. If you aren't sure what your bandwidth at home is, you can call your internet provider."

"If you're using your phone," she adds. "Ensure it is using the most current operating system."

Doctors have been using telehealth platforms for at least 10 years.

Young Male Doctor Video Chatting On Laptop In Clinic

It may seem like telehealth is a new development amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and that may be nerve-wracking to some patients. However, practices of online medical care have been around for about a decade. And, even though it's online, David Frank, DMD, of Walden Dental, says for many people, an online telemedicine visit can be the "same caliber of quality care as compared to in-office visitation."

"Aside from the convenience from home, the virtual medical visit really helps to screen patients on a level of urgency to be seen at an in-office healthcare facility," Frank says. "In respect to our national efforts to limit the pace of COVID-19 contamination, telemedicine and virtual doctor appointments are incredibly helpful to categorize the elective medical concerns versus urgent, potentially life threatening illness." And for more information you should know about COVID-19, check out 21 Coronavirus Myths You Need to Stop Believing, According to Doctors.

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