The Disconnect of Doctor-Patient Relationships At The Convenience Of Virtual Appointments

I'm all for seeing doctors virtually right now - when it works. With a complicated situation that leaves me home most often due to my very suppressed immune system, the mask mandate being lifted, not knowing who has been vaccinated, I feel safer right now with virtual appointments. But it comes at an expense, and it's taking away parts of the doctor-patient relationship for many of us. It has started to get to me, as I know I'm not the only one struggling with this issue.

An anxiety-inducing virtual appointment

I recently had an appointment with my doctor who couldn't hear my audio, despite everything working correctly. I was trying to sign to him for about 5-10 minutes until I signed "Call me." He struggled to understand how to navigate what to do next, so he tried to write on a legal pad that I should call the front desk. He tried to put it up to the camera, but the paper was so out of sight, there was no way I could guess what it said, as it was way below the actual camera lens.

I started the appointment in frustration and found myself having little patience for the rest of the appointment, which lasted around an hour. When we finally disconnected the video and just stayed on the phone, I was relieved. The anxiety I felt was awful.

In person visits make a difference

I see a doctor 1-1.5 hours away from me for specialized care. We meet at least monthly, but do they REALLY get a good look at you physically, and can they tell if you’re truthful, sucking it up and ignoring the pain, or can they sense that in us?

It’s been hard for me. This doctor, in particular, has been with me for 3 years now - through hospitalizations and medication changes and saw me through some life-altering serious events. Until the pandemic, I was driving that distance to and from. I had hard, face-to-face conversations with a doctor who could read non-verbal body cues like a book.

The awkwardness of entering and ending video calls

I find that entering the video chat is a bit anxiety-inducing because you don’t know when to expect the care provider to pop up on the screen or hear them. Exiting or leaving the “room” can be a bit awkward, too. There can be delays, so we might both be exchanging pleasantries and goodbyes at the same time drowning each other out.

Losing non-verbal cues

It’s not face-to-face. And much of the time, this doctor I see has very low lighting in his office, so the doctor-patient partnership is lost a little bit when facial expressions are lost and non-verbal cues are unreadable. That small of a thing can make things fall through the cracks and influence your care.

Internet connection can be problematic

The hardest part is when your internet connection or computers don’t jive. Then there are audio or video problems sometimes that results in a constant echo (which drives me mad instantly). I had an appointment with a specialist recently, everything was working on my end, but he ended up not being able to hear any of what I was saying. We wasted 5-10 minutes with me trying to sign to him that everything was working on my end and to please call me if possible. It was a nightmare of an hour. Eventually, we ended the video call and just remained on the phone. Still, it was an appointment that really would have been beneficial for both parties to see each other during certain parts of conversations.

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