The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a unique set of challenges. It has brought about a period of unprecedented change as we navigate social distancing and other mitigation strategies designed to minimize the catastrophic spread of the illness. Even as hospitals prepare to care for our most vulnerable patients who are at risk of infection from the virus, medical professionals are seeking new avenues to connect with patients and support their medical needs. One model gaining widespread attention is the use of video-conferencing platforms, which allow patients and physicians to interact face-to-face, reducing the risks associated with in-person visits.
The concept of telehealth predates the COVID-19 era. Indeed, with services like MyChart or other online portals, patients and physicians have been connecting outside of the office setting for several years now. Video-conferencing takes these modalities one step further by allowing your doctor to focus entirely on you just as they would in a traditional office visit– with a twist. Doctors can now provide you with the appropriate screening recommendations and counseling in the convenience and comfort of your own home. Seeing your doctor without having to rush to make it on time, to fight traffic, or to pay for parking can provide a calmer and more satisfying experience.
Accessing telehealth has become more comfortable as the technology has significantly improved in the last few years. Getting started is usually no more than a few clicks away. All you need is a smartphone or a laptop with a working camera and microphone. Just as you might use Facetime or WhatsApp to connect with your family and friends, you need to connect to the app. Your medical team will typically send you an email before your appointment, along with some instructions on how to join. It may take some getting used to, but after the first few visits, it becomes effortless to navigate. And rest assured–regulations require that healthcare systems use encryption and secure applications to ensure that your privacy is always protected.
Telehealth is particularly well suited to the management of chronic conditions. Suppose you have diabetes, and you’ve noticed your sugars at home running consistently high—a quick consultation with your doctor to adjust your insulin dose and review your meal plan may be all you need to get back in control. Or perhaps you have congestive heart failure, and you’ve noticed some increased swelling in your legs. Your doctor can help you decide the appropriate treatment course from the safety of your home. Especially for those with compromised immune systems, we can make the necessary changes to your medications without increasing your risk of exposure. When the question you have about your health is a bit too complicated for email, it’s a perfect time to request a telehealth consult.
Telehealth, despite its benefits, is not without limitations. With every new technology come some unintended consequences. Seeing patients face to face is very important for creating trust in a doctor-patient relationship, which happens naturally in the office and may take on a different flavor online. We also do not yet have the means to perform complete physical exams remotely. Furthermore, some examinations– like checking your eyes– require special equipment. Finally, telehealth is no substitute for the emergency room. If you are experiencing a life-threatening illness, you should still seek immediate care.
Despite the limitations, whether you are managing multiple chronic conditions, have a new cough, are experiencing anxiety, or want to check in about your overall health with your doctor, telehealth offers an exciting new avenue for us to connect. In sickness or health, your medical team is always looking for new ways to support you. In telehealth, we think we’ve found just that.