Getting Started with Telehealth: What to Know to Make It Work for You
Jessica Caron, MS
Patient Advocacy Advisor
While not new to healthcare, COVID-19 has pushed telehealth into widespread practice, which is great news for patients — especially those with gastrointestinal illnesses, like Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Now, telehealth is more accessible and patient-focused than ever before.
In a recent scientific study, telehealth was shown to reduce the “financial burdens of chronic disease, improve patient quality of life, and lead to improved clinical outcomes” in patients with IBD. Such findings should encourage patients with chronic health conditions and give them confidence to consider telehealth as an option we should all try out.
Telehealth should not replace a patient’s preferred care delivery option, and it can’t beat the face-to-face relationship that so many with a chronic illness desire. What it does offer is shorter wait times to be seen, improved patient access to more physicians, and greatly reduced paid time off or childcare expenses that some in-person visits may require.
Being in a virtual visit also eliminates any possible spread of communicable illness that may be present in waiting and exam rooms — a huge bonus during a global pandemic, but even during cold and flu season, this is a major plus. And, if you’re not feeling well enough to reliably leave the comforts of your home, this may be the best option to connect with your provider so that you can make a plan for getting better as quickly as possible.
What should you expect from a telehealth appointment?
When scheduling your appointment, know that quicker access is often possible with most offices when you opt into utilizing telehealth. So, if you’re looking to be seen quickly, ask about this option. Additionally, this may reduce your out-of-pocket costs, so be sure to inquire about that, too.
On the day of your appointment, Wi-Fi or a cellular data connection and a phone or laptop will be needed to attend the appointment. If attending your appointment via a patient portal, make sure that you have already downloaded and practiced logging in. Alternatively, some offices utilize a service that will send a link to your email or cell phone, so make sure that you’ve flagged that email or text message so that you have the link handy at the time of your appointment. Giving yourself at least 10 minutes to get logged in and settled is a good practice.
Just like attending a regular doctor’s appointment, you’ll likely be placed in a “waiting room” or “checked-in” virtually until your healthcare provider is ready. They won’t be able to see or hear you while you are in this virtual space, so you can continue with whatever you were doing until you’re admitted to your appointment — just don’t leave your device unattended.
You may be on screen, or you may just be attending via telephone. Either way, you should have your providers’ full attention. At the same time, when chatting over video, you may be able to see images, lab values, or other valuable information in real-time, which can help aid in the conversation and decision making. Advocate for whatever option may work best for you.
How to set yourself up for success
Proactively discuss the option of telehealth at your next in-person appointment with your provider. The two of you can talk about how the process works with their practice and you can personalize the discussion to pinpoint situations when this may be a great option for you.
Pick a time when you can find a quiet and private location when scheduling your appointment. This may be in your car on a lunch break, or from the comfort of your own bed. This is a medical appointment, so you’ll be discussing out-loud information that may be sensitive.
Prepare your thoughts ahead of time, including what you want to accomplish with your time together, to help ensure that you utilize every minute of the telehealth appointment effectively. While this is good practice for any appointment, telehealth appointments may be shorter, so setting your goals at the beginning of the visit will help ensure that you feel heard and that your needs get addressed.
Being virtual means that you can set yourself up with easier-to-access tools for success, including having any devices that work for you at the ready to take notes on your discussion and highlight whatever action steps are identified.
It may be time to try Telehealth
If you haven’t yet, it may be time to try out telehealth. While it shouldn’t replace all aspects of traditional healthcare, telehealth can greatly improve access, reduce wait times and cost, and can even remove exposure concerns that are front-and-center these days.
Personalization and planning are key to ensure that you get the most of your experience. Using this approach, you can add this quick-access option to your list of go-to’s the next time that you want to connect with your medical team.
About the Author
Jessica Caron, MS is a passionate healthcare professional and patient advocate in the Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) community. As a nationally recognized speaker on patient advocacy, Jessica shares her experience as a patient living with Crohn’s disease, advocating for a co-facilitated approach to advancing medical care. She blogs and supports patients across the globe through her website, Chronically-Jess.com.
Jessica has a psychology degree from the University of Maine, a Master of Education in Human Relations from Plymouth State University, and recently earned her master’s in Health Care Delivery Science (MHCDS) from Dartmouth College. Jessica currently lives and works in New Hampshire with her husband and two young sons.