By Dr. Deirdre Wheat, Medical Director, Population Health Management, Independent Health
Telehealth is a safe and convenient way to connect with your doctor
As the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home has become the new normal for millions of Americans. Employers and their employees are now relying heavily on videoconferencing and other forms of technology in order to conduct everyday business and as a replacement for in-office meetings. The same applies to doctor offices, too.
While most health care settings remain open, many patients may be wary to visit their doctor, which has opened the door to telehealth. Primary care, specialty and ancillary providers throughout the country have set up telehealth capabilities so they can treat their patients through remote technologies instead of in-person. Telehealth means that visits are conducted either by phone, e-mail, through an online patient portal or face-to-face using video chat services like Skype or FaceTime.
Popularity of telehealth skyrockets
Although telehealth has been around for a few years, there has been a surge in demand and availability over the past three months. A recent report from Frost & Sullivan suggests the uptake in telehealth services will increase by 64.3% nationwide this year, given the disruptions of COVID-19. Researchers also predict that the pandemic will continue to reshape care delivery. Frost & Sullivan forecasts a sevenfold growth in the telehealth market by 2025 – a five-year compound annual growth rate of 38.2%.
Not only are more Americans embracing telehealth from a safety perspective, it also eliminates both the travel and waiting room times that are often associated with a normal office visit. That means people can still receive the care they need without taking significant time out of their everyday schedule. Obviously, that’s good news for both employers and employees alike.
What to expect as a patient?
Those interested in having a telehealth visit should check with their doctor’s office first to see if these services are available. Each provider practice has its own way of scheduling and conducting telehealth visits.
In many ways, a telehealth visit is similar to an in-person visit:
- Most providers require an appointment.
- Most offices offer appointment reminders via phone call, text message, and/or e-mail.
- Prior to starting an appointment, a patient’s personal details will be verified.
- Patients will be speaking directly with their provider during their visit.
- Patients can ask a family member to join the visit or talk with the doctor as they might in person.
To ensure a telehealth experience is a success, patients should prepare by:
- Environment: Pick a quiet area with few distractions so the doctor can hear them, and the patient can focus on the appointment. Things to think about that may be distracting include kids, the dog and the television. Good lighting also helps so the doctor can see the patient.
- Information: The patient should have available their history, medication and allergy lists. It’s a good idea to prepare a list of questions ahead and have them ready to ask.
- Self: Be on time. If using audiovisual technology, the doctor can see the patient just as they can see the doctor. Patients should dress and prepare their appearance just as they would for an in-person visit.
To help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 while ensuring access to medical care, Independent Health has expanded its telehealth coverage for a variety of office visits. We have also partnered with Zipongo to offer a new telenutrition service, which allows our members to have virtual, one-on-one video chat or phone visits with a registered dietitian.
Dr. Deirdre Wheat currently serves as medical director, population health management, at Independent Health. She is responsible for helping oversee provider and patient/member engagement. Dr. Wheat earned both her medical degree and master of medical science degree in health promotion from the University College Galway in Ireland. In addition, she received a master of public health degree in epidemiology from the University at Buffalo, where she also completed residency training in internal medicine and preventive medicine.
Disclaimer: The above commentary entails the views of the author and not necessarily the views of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.