How telehealth can fill a healthcare void during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond
We’ve all had to make many adaptations as we grapple with ways to continue the essential activities of our lives while maintaining proper social distancing. One of those essential activities is visiting your women’s healthcare provider. Fortunately, the medical community has embraced telehealth as a means of providing medical care during this time when traditional health provider visits can be limited.
VPFW providers, staff and many patients have had to quickly adapt to using telehealth for certain types of appointments during the pandemic. But what we are delighted to have discovered is that telehealth is an engaging way to make healthcare more accessible even beyond the extraordinary times we currently live in.
What types of needs can be met via telehealth?
During the pandemic, it is the medical community’s goal to prevent patients from making unnecessary trips to clinics and emergency rooms where exposure risks are high and medical personnel are overwhelmed. But telehealth also provides convenience and accessibility for patients who might have difficulty getting to an appointment due to work, childcare, or other challenges. Depending on the need for the visit, these patients may be able to receive the same level of care remotely.
Virtual telehealth visits are especially useful for:
- initial consultations to determine if patients need to be seen in person
- ongoing management of chronic health problems
- certain GYN issues
- urinary and fecal incontinence
- urinary tract infections
- pelvic floor prolapse or discomfort
- dietary consultations
- postpartum depression
- medication adjustments or refills
- follow-up visits
How telehealth works
Telemedicine often incorporates the use of computers or smartphones that allow for video-chats It can also include phone calls between patients and their providers if video capability is not available. At VPFW, the process starts with discussing your medical needs with one of our phone nurses to determine if telehealth is an option or if you need to come into the office to see a provider.
If telehealth is the way to go, we will email you a link to join your virtual appointment at a specific time. You can use a smartphone or a computer with a camera and strong internet connection. Once you click the link, you will enter your provider’s “waiting room.” Your provider will start your session once they arrive, and then you’ll be able to discuss your symptoms and treatment options together, “face-to-face.”
See VPFW’s full telehealth instructions.
How to prepare for your telehealth visit
To get the most out of your telehealth visit, it’s helpful to be prepared with questions for your provider as well as information to answer their questions:
- A list of your current medications
- Updates regarding other medical conditions for which you are being treated
- Since vital signs cannot be measured, your provider may ask you to measure your blood pressure, pulse, temperature, weight and blood sugar if you have the means to do so at home.
- A list of symptoms you are experiencing
It’s also a good idea to find a proper setting and test for technical issues:
- Find a quiet room with good lighting to do your virtual visit
- Test your audio by playing a song or video to make sure the sound is not muted
- Test your internet connection
- Plug in your computer or smartphone or make sure your device is well-charged
Wider accessibility for patients and their families
Fortunately, the medical community, government and insurance companies had begun to embrace and prepare for a rise in telehealth visits even before the pandemic. In March, the federal government loosened Medicare restrictions on telemedicine so that it could be utilized much more widely, not just for patients who live in rural or other remote areas. Most insurance providers now cover telehealth visits the same way they would a normal in-office visit.
Telehealth also allows wider access for patients’ family members to be involved in their care if the patient chooses. Family members who previously might not have been able to attend appointments can now be present for the visit, and in some cases, they can act as a patient’s proxy.
At VPFW, telehealth visits can now be used both for new patient encounters and for patients who are already established with the practice. New patients will simply need to complete our new patient information form online or return the form via email, fax or mail before we can set up their visit.
Telehealth will enhance future care
Certainly there are limitations to telehealth visits because they are conducted remotely. However, just as with a traditional in-office visit, the information you share, the questions you are asked, and the observations your provider makes during a telehealth visit will be used to make an assessment of your condition and provide you with care.
While nothing can replace the human touch, physical examination and direct interaction of an in-office visit, it’s crucial to have an easy and secure method of “face-to-face” communication until we can all safely be together again. Meanwhile, our current circumstances provide a great opportunity for us to learn the advantages and limitations of telehealth visits so that we can use it to enhance traditional healthcare and provide more accessible options for patient care in the future.