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Tuesday August 4, 2020

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

How to Make the Most of Your Telehealth Appointment

I manage a large doctor’s clinic that treats hundreds of seniors each month. We are moving to more telehealth visits to help keep our patients safe at home during the coronavirus pandemic, but this new way of seeing a doctor is befuddling to many of our elder patients. How can patients best prepare for a telehealth appointment?

To help keep patients safe and at home during the coronavirus crisis, more and more doctors and other health care providers are turning to telehealth or telemedicine appointments. These remote visits use digital communication devices, such as a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Although telehealth has been around for a few years, recent updates to regulations and a surge in demand has made it the easiest way to receive many different types of medical care. Most telehealth appointments tend to be primary care, follow-up visits that can assess symptoms or follow up with patients who have had a medical procedure. Telehealth also works well for some specialties like dermatology or mental health care (counseling/therapy) services.

What can patients expect from a telehealth visit and how should they prepare? The first step is to call your doctor’s office to find out whether telemedicine visits are available and whether you will need to set up an account or install special software on your computer, phone or tablet.

Until recently, medical professionals were required to conduct telehealth visits through platforms such as Doxy, Thera-Link or MyChart that were compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. Some of those requirements have been relaxed in the current crisis, so many providers are using popular apps such as FaceTime, Skype and Zoom to conduct visits.

Once you know what technology you will be using, get familiar with it. You do not want to spend the first 10 minutes of your visit trying to figure out how to unmute the audio. For patients that are not familiar or comfortable with technology, ask a relative or friend with a smartphone, tablet or laptop to assist you.

Take the time to clarify the purpose of the televisit before it begins. Prioritize a written list of three or four issues you want to discuss with your doctor and make a list of the medicines and dosages you are taking. Also, have relevant medical devices or logs on hand, such as a penlight or smartphone flashlight for viewing a sore throat, a blood-pressure cuff and thermometer (or recent readings), blood-sugar logs if you are diabetic or a food log if you have gastrointestinal problems.

Wear loose clothing that will allow you to show your medical provider what is concerning you. If you have received medical care at different places, such as an urgent care facility or another doctor’s office, have your latest medical records with you during the telemedicine visit.

The length of the appointment may depend on the problem. A routine visit could be very quick, while others, such as a physical-therapy appointment, may last as long as a session at a clinic. Waiting rooms are sometimes replaced by virtual waiting rooms.

Before the visit ends, make sure you know the follow-up plan. Do you need to schedule an in-office visit, fill a prescription or get a referral to a specialist?

Right now, Medicare and Medicaid are covering the cost of telehealth visits (see medicare.gov/coverage/telehealth for details), and most private insurers are following suit.

If, however, you do not have a primary care physician or need urgent care, you can get help through virtual health care services. Many of these services currently do not accept original Medicare, but they may be covered by private insurers including some Medicare Advantage plans. Be sure to check before your visit.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published June 19, 2020
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