Seeing your doctor online can be just as helpful as seeing him or her in person, whether you’re seeking treatment for a minor ailment, need help managing a chronic condition, or want to pursue behavioral health care. It’s usually cheaper to see a doctor online, and it saves you a trip to the clinic.
But you shouldn’t dive headlong into a virtual doctor’s appointment without knowing what to expect and being prepared. Since your doctor won’t be able to examine you in person, you should be able to verbalize your symptoms and their progression. You also need a reliable internet connection and a device with videoconferencing capabilities. Here’s what you need to know to get the health care you need.
Even though your doctor can’t physically examine you over the internet, you can get just about any kind of care you need via telehealth. If your doctor thinks you need tests run or follow-up care in person, they’ll schedule it for you. If, based on your virtual exam, your doctor thinks you’re having a medical emergency, they’ll send you to the emergency room.
But most things can be treated online — including most minor illnesses, infections, and injuries. Telehealth lends itself to visual examination, so as long as you have a decent webcam and a strong connection, your doctor should be able to get a good look at any rashes, wounds, growths or other visible symptoms. And because much of patient care involves listening to the patient’s concerns and questions, your doctor should be able to make most diagnoses without seeing you in person.
Telehealth is also an appropriate format for managing chronic conditions that require regular follow-ups with your primary care doctor or a specialist. When you need regular check-ups to manage conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or depression, you can use telemedicine services to get them. Doctors can write most prescriptions online, with the exception of certain controlled substances. You can even get specialty care from a specialist without having to travel, which can be a literal lifesaver for people in rural areas.
A virtual doctor visit will be much the same as an in-person visit. As soon as your virtual appointment begins, cut right to the chase and tell your doctor why you’re seeking symptoms. Be prepared to show any visible symptoms. A virtual doctor’s appointment will last about the same amount of time as a regular doctor’s appointment, so make the most of it.
Before you make your first virtual appointment, verify that your health insurance covers it. Most insurances do cover telehealth, and many providers are pushing their subscribers to use more telehealth services because they’re cheaper. You may end up getting a lower copay for an online doctor visit, or even have the copay waived entirely. If you don’t have insurance, telemedicine platforms like Plushcare can provide cheaper care than most brick-and-mortar practices.
Preparing for your online visit is a lot like preparing for an in-person doctor visit. Start by making sure that your paperwork is up to date. If you’re using a telemedicine platform, fill out your paperwork before your session (it’s the same kind of paperwork that you’d normally fill out in the waiting room). If you’re seeing your regular doctor online, call the office and make sure your paperwork is complete.
If you’re seeing a new provider, you’ll also need to provide a complete medical history. Online telemedicine platforms offer a place for this in your patient account. If you’re seeing a doctor for routine management of a chronic condition, make sure you’ve forwarded any information your doctor needs, like blood sugar measurements, before your appointment.
You’ll need to find a private spot at home with plenty of light and somewhere you can prop your device to keep your hands free for the appointment. Make sure you know what app your doctor wants to use for your meeting and how to use it. Verify that your device and app are working before your session, but have a backup communication plan, like switching to an audio call, in case you lose your connection or your video quality is too bad to be useful. Write your concerns, questions, and any home remedies or over-the-counter treatments you’ve been trying, and in what doses. And while you might want privacy, it can be helpful to have a family member or friend there to help you take notes and ask questions that haven’t occurred to you.
Going to the doctor online is a convenient, easy, low-cost alternative, whether you’re homebound or just don’t want to drive to the clinic. You can get quick treatment at any time of the day or night, and start feeling like yourself again faster.