Migraine Management via Telehealth
In March 2020, when COVID-19 made a prevalent and widespread entrance into the United States, life as we knew it changed.
The beginning of telehealth services
As a chronic illness patient living with two autoimmune diseases alongside my struggle with migraines, one of the fastest, most impactful, and most dramatic changes I experienced was the instant launch of video healthcare. Almost every doctors' office and clinic I frequented closed for in-person appointments for quite some time at the beginning of the pandemic. Many of those providers had not previously offered telehealth services, which meant a lot of logistics and permissions and set up for them over a short period of time.
My initial hesitations
I'd had a few doctor's appointments via phone call in the past but never found them to be really adequate, so my initial worry was that telehealth would leave me with the same dissatisfied taste in my mouth.
I'll be the first to admit I was completely wrong.
My first telehealth appointments
My first few telehealth appointments were with specialists I saw routinely - my gastroenterologist, my rheumatologist, my primary care physician, my therapist, and my psychiatrist. These were all appointments that were important for symptom and medication management, and the offices I worked with scheduled me in fairly well once their telehealth systems and practices were up and running.
My virtual migraine care
I've written a lot about how I was seeing a general neurologist and then a migraine specialist and recently made the transition to a headache clinic. The first doctor I was seeing, the general neurologist, wasn't interested in completing video call appointments, so our "virtual" meetings were done via phone. I really struggled to communicate the things I needed to about my migraines when she couldn't see me and I couldn't see her. I did not find these appointments to be helpful, but at the time, they sufficed. The second doctor I worked with, the migraine specialist, was loosely associated with telehealth, and his assistant would set up the meetings and join us on the calls. And the headache clinic I am now a patient at thrives with the use of telehealth, making my job as a patient much simpler.
What to expect with telehealth
I want to quickly provide a telehealth overview in case you're not familiar. During the pandemic, many healthcare providers have begun to offer telehealth - which means remote healthcare or healthcare services via phone/video chat. In my experience, setting up a telehealth appointment begins when you are booking a follow-up visit. Most clinics express that it'll be virtual or ask if you have an in-person vs. virtual preference.
How to access the appointment
Next, they'll provide you with instructions on how to access the virtual meeting. Sometimes you'll receive a text message, email, or portal message with a link to click on at the time of your appointment. It's important to bookmark or save this link, so you have access to it on appointment day. Other times, you'll receive instructions that the doctor or nurse will call you via phone, and they'll confirm the number you want to be reached at. And finally, some doctors will send you a text with a link in real-time when the appointment starts, and you can join them live.
Where and how to take appointments
I've found that you can take video calls or telehealth appointments from a computer, tablet, or phone - as long as you have the option of both video and sound. I recommend taking these calls from a private place where you don't have much background noise and where you can talk about the confidential matters of your migraines and health in general without others overhearing. If you have headphones connected to your device, it may help with the sound quality on both your end and the physicians.
Preparing for telehealth appointments
Just as you would prepare for an in-person appointment, preparing for telehealth appointments is important to ensure you are able to get as much out of the appointment as possible. I recommend having a list of all current medications, your migraine treatment/regiment, your migraine journal, or however you've been tracking your migraines since your last appointment and a list of questions pre-written and printed out for you to have next to you during your virtual appointment.
Once you're on the call, ensure that you can hear the doctor well and that, in return, they can also hear you crisply. As you complete the call, ensure you know how to reach them (via a portal, email, or phone) if you have follow-up questions or need anything else.
Have you received migraine care via telehealth? How did it go? Do you prefer it to in-person care?
Which are you most sensitive to?