Though the days of house calls by physicians may be long gone, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced some physicians to reevaluate how they provide patient care.
While social distancing remains the societal norm, physicians have turned to modern telehealth technology to provide their patients with the best quality of care and to keep their patients and staff safe.
To help support your physician and their staff, be prepared for your next telehealth “house call” by following these easy recommendations to ensure your virtual appointment is truly a positive experience.
1. Check with your health insurance company. Until recently, most insurers have significantly limited their coverage of telehealth visits. With COVID-19, however, and the stay-at-home measures needed to limit its spread, many insurers have expanded their coverage to include telemedicine. Before you set up an appointment, check with your physician’s office or your insurer to be sure that your visit will be covered.
2. Own a good-quality webcam. Virtual visits work best when your doctor can clearly see and hear you. Most mobile devices and computers come with great cameras and microphones.
Be sure to test yours by doing a video call with a family member or friend before your appointment. FaceTime, Skype or a similar program would work nicely. Start the call, set the camera down a few feet away from you, and hold a conversation. Can the other person clearly see you and hear you? Do you need to talk louder, or get closer to the microphone? Can you hear the other person OK? If you’re having issues, you want to be sure to work those out prior to any appointment with your doctor. Your doctor’s first “house call” should not be the first call you’ve ever done on your webcam.
3. Understand your doctor’s method of sending you notifications. The telehealth systems employed by most doctors generally will notify patients when the doctor is ready to see them. Often, notifications will come through email, phone or text. Make sure you know which method your doctor will use — you don’t want to keep your doctor waiting while you are waiting for your doctor.
The day of your visit
1. Test your webcam again. If there are any problems, let your doctor know as soon as possible. You may need to reschedule your appointment.
2. Make sure your volume is turned on. It’s such a simple thing, but we’ve all made these mistakes. Test your volume by opening an online video or playing a song.
3. Test your microphone. Open a recording program or speak into your device while looking at the control panel to visually confirm your microphone is working. Make sure your sound isn’t muted.
4. Plug in. The last thing you want is for your power to die in the middle of your visit. Plugging in will avoid that.
5. Use a wired connection. It’s fine to do a virtual visit over a secure Wi-Fi connection. However, you are less likely to lose connection if your computer is plugged directly into your modem.
6. Find a quiet space where you’re not likely to get interrupted. You’ll feel more comfortable with a little privacy, and you’re less likely to be distracted.
7. Adjust the lighting. Be sure to be in a well-lit room with lots of balanced lighting. Your goal is to provide good lighting without any glare. Try turning on overhead lights and lights situated in front of you. Block light from windows, which can make it harder for your doctor to see you.
8. Have your doctor’s phone number on hand, in case you have technical issues or other problems. It’s better to have the number nearby, rather than to search for it if a problem arises.
Modern telehealth technology has resurrected the house call and will no doubt be here to stay. A little preparation will ensure your virtual house call makes the best use of your time and that of your physician — and you get the health care you need.
Jeffrey B. Miller is senior counsel at the local law firm Saxton & Stump. He’s also director in charge of Granite Governance, Risk and Compliance, a consulting firm that supports businesses with remotely working employees, telemedicine and information privacy and security.