Back in the spring, when physician offices were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual doctor visits took off. While before the pandemic only about 10% of Americans had ever used telemedicine, according to a J.D. Power survey, such visits increased 10-fold this year. Several changes made this this possible: Medicare started paying for video visits, and many states permitted care across state lines. Here at Mount Sinai, we had actually begun implementing video visits with primary care, stroke and specialty care programs (like my specialty – endocrinology & diabetes) as far back as 2015. We were ready to go!
Yet in order to have a successful and frustration-free video visit, there are some things you can do to prepare. Some of these suggestions may seem obvious, but they are worth spelling out.
Here’s one of my biggest pet peeves: If you don’t think texting while driving is a good idea, don’t do a video visit with your doctor while driving! In fact, don’t get non-urgent healthcare in transit, period. When there’s no privacy and choppy video it is very hard to do an exam. Instead, seek out a private space with good WiFi or a solid data connection. Select a private place in the home even if that means being in the bathroom, if it’s the most private place in your apartment. Pick a time when you’re not competing for bandwidth (e.g. during your kids’ Zoom schooling).
Here is something you may not have thought of: Don’t be shy to use your hands to explain and communicate numbers with your fingers, e.g. to clarify medication dosing. Log on 10 minutes before your visit so you can fill out questionnaires and deal with any co-pays, just as you would in a regular doctor’s office.
Insist on making your provider repeat or reword something when there are connection issues. Sometimes video or audio are not that great and then it may be beneficial to move a few feet for better reception.
If your physician is looking away during your visit, you are not being ignored! The doc is looking up information or medical records, so please do not be offended. I promise we are paying attention, and we are just trying to get more information or taking down important information that you are providing.
I suggest that you sign up for your doctor’s medical health chart portal, such as Mount Sinai’s MyChart, so you can ask for a brief summary to be uploaded there after your televisit to help you remember what you discussed during the visit. Video doctors can send lab orders to major lab chains or send you a letter that can function as a lab slip order that you can take to the lab of your choice. Diabetes is made for video visits, because I can get the glucose readings of many of my patients through the cloud, so I have all the information I need beforehand. Here are some of the biggest benefits of video visits with a physician:
· No more “taking the day off” for your doctor’s visits – video is less time-consuming.
· No need to commute – you can stay in the comfort of your own home, during a pandemic or inclement weather or if you’re bedridden.
· No forgetting to bring medications or documentations or records to the visits, as you can show the doctor your medicine cabinet in real-time.
· You won’t catch any colds or flus or any other bugs from the doctor’s office as you won’t be getting coughed on in the waiting room.
· Our doctors can dial you in with a family member or another trusted person, just like 3-way call
Of course, there is a downside too, such as choppy video or audio, and some exams are not possible virtually such as feeling a thyroid gland, or feeling the reassuring touch of a medical professional.
Video visits are a safe and efficient way to see your doctor. You don’t have to worry about crowded public transit or waiting rooms. You are able to speak with experts to get symptoms checked, and get the care you need. This includes lab orders and prescriptions. The co-pays are the same as for in-person visits.
You can call Mount Sinai at 1800MD-SINAI for a video visit with a Mount Sinai primary care doctor or specialist of your choice. For Urgent Care by video from a Mount Sinai doctor, download the Mount Sinai NOW App. Please keep in mind: This is not appropriate for emergencies, for which a 911 call or a visit to the nearest emergency room is still the way to go.
Ronald Tamler, MD, PhD, is Professor of Medicine, Endocrinology, Diabetes and Bone Disease and Director of Digital Health Implementation for Mount Sinai Health System