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4 ways to get the most out of your telehealth visit

You need that nagging wound seen on your lunch break. But the doctor’s office is half an hour away, not counting traffic. Don’t worry, as we’ve all learned during the pandemic, visiting a doctor remotely via an electronic device is easier than ever.

Telehealth (also known as telemedicine) has been around in some form for decades, but became a necessity during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Now, with most in-person activities returning to normal, many doctors continue to offer phone and video chat options for certain types of visits, making it easier to get the care you need instead of traveling to a medical facility in between. of his work day

The average length of a doctor-led telehealth appointment is 15 minutes, according to research from the University of Michigan. Compare that to 121 minutes spent visiting the doctor in the office, of which only 20 minutes are spent seeing a doctor, with the rest spent traveling and waiting, according to The American Journal of Managed Care.

Saving time is a big plus, but not if taking the fast route compromises your level of focus. The key to making those 15 minutes count is some simple prep work before you talk to your doctor.

Can it really be as effective to have it checked out by a doctor literally in a different zip code as an in-person exam?

“As a provider doing telehealth before the pandemic, I saw firsthand how reluctant patients were [to use the telehealth option]says Eric Ascher, DO, a family medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “Since Covid, patients have found telehealth visits much more appealing as a means to save time, have flexibility in appointment times and maintain safety during Covid spikes.”

More than half of men have tried telehealth visits in the past two years, and reviews are mixed on whether or not they see it as a good way to monitor their health. In a national survey of more than 1,500 men conducted by Hearst Media, the parent company of men’s health, only 35% of men who tried telehealth liked it as much as in-person visits, while only 13% preferred it to in-person visits. Overall, 79 percent of men feel their care is better when they see their doctor in person.

Of course, visiting a doctor’s office is what we’re all used to, so it’s understandable to be skeptical about phone and video appointments. Can it really be as effective to have it checked out by a doctor literally in a different zip code as an in-person exam?

Yes, as long as you actively participate in the process and supplement your telehealth appointments with in-person visits when necessary. Whether you book an appointment online out of preference or necessity, you can make it work better for you and all of your medical needs. Below are four tips from telehealth providers on how to maximize your virtual doctor visits to get the best treatment possible.

1. Show up prepared

The first is the first. Give their technology a try, says Barbara Bawer, MD, a family medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Is your internet working properly? Do you know how to login correctly? Does your microphone work? Is there good lighting in the room? she says. Not addressing these issues beforehand can cost her valuable time as she strives to improve her technology.

Another tip from Dr. Bawer: Keep your medications handy so you’ll know the names and dosages if asked. He also suggests that you “write a list of your complaints and concerns, and present them in order from most important to least important.” That way, if you get cut off or run out of time, you’ll know you’ve at least covered the main issues.

So consider your location. Choose a quiet place where (a) you won’t be disturbed and (b) you can talk freely about your problems, says Erin McNeely, MD, an internal medicine doctor at Spectrum Health in Grandville, Michigan. This can be any number of points. “I’ve visited patients in their homes, outside, and even with them in their parked car,” she says, adding, “but don’t expect to have a virtual visit while driving.”

Present your concerns in order of most important to least important, in case you run out of time.

dr McNeely recommends arriving five to 15 minutes before your virtual visit, in case you experience connection issues or think there’s a chance you forgot to check in on time. Keep your browser window open on your computer or silence your phone while you wait. “Think of it like traffic or a detour if you were on your way to the physical clinic,” she says. “You want to make sure you arrive on time and don’t miss your appointment.”

2. Choose Video

Telehealth is convenient whether you do it by phone or video. If you have a choice between the two, go with the latter, says Isabel Valdez, PA-C, an assistant professor of general internal medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. “Most of the time, a video visit is better than a phone call because there is so much we can learn about the patient just by looking at them on camera, like changes in breathing, rashes, or swelling of a particular area.” she says. “I also use video visits for patients to demonstrate to me how they use devices like asthma inhalers. Some patients use them incorrectly, and seeing their technique on video gives us an opportunity to improve the way the medication is delivered so they can start to feel better.”

Turn on your camera. Your doctor can tell a lot just by looking at you, for example, if you’re experiencing changes in breathing, a rash, or swelling in a particular area.

When you meet over video, consider what you’re wearing. If he has a physical problem, Dr. McNeely says to make sure he can really show it. For example, wear pants that you can easily pull up if he talks about a rash on your calf. “We can tell a lot from the videos for things like rashes, swelling and other injuries,” Dr. McNeely says. “Your provider might also ask you to move or press on certain areas to check for pain.” So, he says, it’s a good idea to “make sure you’re in a space where you can move around a little bit.”

3. Going the distance for sexual health issues

Discussing sensitive topics like sexual health can be awkward in person, especially if you don’t know your provider well. This makes telehealth a convenient and comforting option. The results of the Hearst survey reflect this, at least for younger men: 52% of men ages 18 to 34 chose to discuss sexual health issues with a doctor over the phone or video, compared to 36 % of men aged 35-54 and only 6% for men over 55.

If your problem doesn’t require a physical exam, telehealth really has no drawbacks. dr Ascher says that any sexual health issue will be discussed in the same way as if you went to his doctor’s office. “Your doctor will ask you a lot of questions, not because he’s nosy, but because it will allow you to better address his concerns, diagnose and then treat,” he says. “I always remind my patients that I am not intruding. I’m just trying to understand better.”

Discuss any sexual health issue the same way you would go to your doctor’s office.

If you need lab work done, your doctor can order it after your telehealth visit. From there, test results and next steps would happen the same way over the phone or video chat as they would in the office, says Dr. Ashtray.

dr Bawer emphasizes that “anything you say to a provider is confidential,” whether you see your doctor in person or connect via telemedicine, “so you feel comfortable that we won’t share it with anyone.”

4. You still have in-person exams

Despite the aforementioned benefits of telehealth, men in the Hearst survey clearly favor traditional doctor visits: Four out of five men think they receive better care in person than by phone or video.

That’s a big number, 80 percent, and Dr. Ascher acknowledges that it’s best to seek care in person in certain situations. “You shouldn’t have an annual exam via telehealth unless you’re going to follow up with an in-person visit,” he says. “Most annual visits require a full physical exam, which is limited by the nature of telehealth.” This often includes the doctor manually inspecting particular parts of the body, checking your vital signs, and possibly performing a blood test and EKG. “A physical exam is very important, as doctors are trained to examine,” he adds.

Establish an in-person relationship with your provider before you switch to telehealth.

This doesn’t mean you should rule out telehealth. Experts stress that you can still receive world-class care remotely if you play an active role in the process. “Make sure you’re in the conversation during the telemedicine visit,” Dr. Bawer says. “I find that many patients multitask during their visits, such as washing dishes, eating, or even driving. You wouldn’t do that on an in-person visit, so don’t do it on a virtual visit. It can send a message to the doctor that you really don’t care.”

It may also be helpful to establish a face-to-face relationship with your provider before switching to telehealth. “Once the provider gets to know you,” Dr. Bawer says, “you can have just as good an experience virtually as you can in person.”

Whether you’re sold on the concept or not, telemedicine is here to stay. And visits should only get better over time, says Dr. Ashtray. “Telehealth is still new to many providers,” he notes. “So providers are also adjusting.”

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