by Melanie Aksamit, Process Improvement Coordinator, and Kristopher Schamber, MD – both of Sheridan Memorial Hospital’s Internal Medicine Practice.
Tele-health. Tele-medicine. Zoom. These are terms that have been thrown around frequently in the last few months. Chances are you have either experienced one of these or know someone who has.
But what do the terms mean? Tele-health and Tele-medicine are synonymous terms given to medical care visits performed through the internet via video and audio software on a computer, smartphone, or tablet. These visits are also sometimes called virtual house calls or video visits. During these visits, you and your medical provider can see and hear each other throughout your appointment.
While a traditional in-person office visit cannot be fully replaced by telehealth visits, there are many medical conditions and appointment types that can be seen in this way. Medication follow-up, mental health, and chronic stable medical conditions can all be safely discussed during a video visit. Some conditions simply cannot be evaluated in a video visit. These include serious conditions like heart attacks, strokes, and breathing problems, or a condition that requires a physical examination. When you call to schedule an appointment, your care team will help you determine if you need to be seen in person.
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, a video visit can be a great way to see your medical provider, while staying safe in the comfort of your own home. The visits function the same basic way that your in-person visits do. A care team member will confirm your appointment, request a video visit in place of the standard office visit if appropriate, and review the necessary requirements to participate in a video visit. If you do not feel comfortable or do not have the technology to join a video visit, a telephone visit will be set up in its place. You will be sent an email containing the link to join the visit and detailed instructions on how to work the Zoom video visit program. On the day of your video visit, the office staff will call you prior to your appointment start time and confirm that you are ready, and assist you with getting online with your care team. Once it is confirmed that you are good to go, a nursing staff member will join you, and review the reason for the visit and confirm the medications you are taking. The medical provider will then join you as soon as they are finished with their prior appointment. Your provider will ask questions and discuss your concerns similar to a standard in-person visit. He or she may ask for home blood pressure measurements, or ask to view the problem area over the video, if appropriate to do so (for example, a skin rash, area of swelling, or even observe you walk). At the end of your visit, your provider will review your care plan as usual, and the nursing staff member will ensure all testing has been ordered and other medical visits have been scheduled.
A telehealth video visit can be a scary proposition when experiencing it for the first time. However, once you are connected it feels a lot like a regular office visit. If you struggle with the Zoom program when testing it prior to your visit, please call our office and we will be happy to help walk you through it. We also encourage you to have a family member or caregiver assist you, and if possible stay close by or join you during your visit.
Due to special circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are fortunate to provide this service to our patients. In the past, due to regulations, we have not been able to. If you access telehealth video visits and find the service useful and positive, please contact your local, state, and federal legislators to inform them of your experience so they might consider supporting modifications to telehealth regulations long term.