Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, I was enthralled by the TV show “The Jetsons” and the space-age way they lived. In one episode, Elroy, the son, was sick, and Dr. Racey magically appeared on the TV screen, donned his mask, and proceeded to examine and make recommendations to Elroy and his mother.
The pandemic pushed our use of this technology forward exponentially and I believe will forever change the way we deliver healthcare to our patients with neuromuscular conditions.
Telehealth is a video call between a healthcare provider and patient using technology that is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The virtual clinic visit, like an in-person visit, allows a doctor to obtain a history, perform a physical examination, and make recommendations pertinent to the purpose of the visit.
While my examination is certainly going to be different, I have been impressed with how much information I am able to obtain in order to guide my decision making. Telehealth can be used for new patient visits, follow-up visits, and urgent sick visits. Given the limitations, telehealth should not be used for emergency visits.
During the pandemic, federal and state governments, recognizing the benefits of telehealth, eased many restrictions that were in place. Use of non-HIPAA-compliant technology such as Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime is currently allowed, but may not be in the future. Restrictions also loosened in some states to allow healthcare providers to perform telehealth visits with their patients who live in different states.
Benefits of telehealth
Here are some benefits that you may experience receiving care through telehealth:
- Save time and money: Because you are not traveling to the clinic, there is no transportation time or costs, fewer childcare issues, and less time missed from work or school.
- Convenience: Telehealth can be very convenient for those who rely on technology for breathing or who have physical limitations that make traveling to a clinic challenging.
- Minimize exposure to COVID and other viral infections: Without leaving your home, you have less exposure to illnesses spread by others.
- Home assessments: A rehabilitation physician or therapist can assess your environment to address any equipment needs you have.
What to consider with telehealth
- Technology requirements: In general, you need a device with a camera to be able to see your provider and be seen. A high-speed internet connection or unlimited cellular plan is important for a reliable and quality visit. Test your technology ahead of your visit if possible.
- Insurance coverage: Many insurance plans cover telehealth visits. If you have any concerns about your coverage, you should check with your insurer.
Preparing for your visit can help you get the most out of the time with your healthcare provider. The tips below can help ensure a successful visit:
- Prepare like you would for an in-person appointment: Write down the questions you want to discuss and have a list of your medications, or even the medication bottles, handy. Some healthcare providers may send forms for you to complete before the visit. Document your vital signs, such as weight, blood pressure, and heart rate if you have the appropriate medical devices at home.
- Pick the right place in your home: Find a quiet space without distractions, sit in a comfortable chair, make sure the lighting allows the healthcare provider to easily see you, and have your device on a stable surface to avoid camera movement.
- Have someone join you if possible: A family member or friend can help adjust the camera, take notes, and even assist in the examination during a telehealth visit.
While the COVID-19 pandemic pushed healthcare providers and patients quickly into the telehealth space, the benefits are significant. As a neuromuscular physician, I do not think telehealth will completely replace in-person clinic visits but will be a great addition to the care you already receive.