6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Telehealth Visit

“Hello, I’m Dr R------,” the gastroenterologist said at my first telehealth appointment with him. Social convention dictates that I would have said, “Hi, I’m Kerrie. It’s nice to meet you.” Instead, I was so discombobulated that all I said was, “Hi."

This wasn’t my first telehealth visit, but it was my first with a healthcare provider I hadn't met before and who doesn’t normally offer virtual visits. The doctor seemed totally comfortable, but I felt awkward. So I did what I always do when I’m uncomfortable—I research. Here’s what I learned about getting the most out of your telehealth visits.

1. Familiarize yourself with the technology ahead of time

Different providers use different technology, so it’s helpful to familiarize yourself beforehand. Even if they use Zoom, the access is usually different than if you’re doing a happy hour with friends. If you can, do a trial run the day before the visit to check for any issues. This gives you plenty of time to call the provider’s office with questions. Even if you don’t have time for a trial run, logging in even 15 minutes before the appointment gives you some wiggle room.

In addition to understanding the provider’s specific telehealth platform, check to be sure your video and audio are working properly. Time at a doctor’s visit is too short to waste on technology pitfalls.

2. Send lab results or medical records ahead of time

If you have recent or relevant lab results or medical records, that’s important information for your provider to see. If the provider has a portal, you may be able to submit the documents there. If not, contact the provider’s office to see if you can fax, mail, or drop them off.

3. Take your vitals before the appointment

Your provider may need to know your temperature, blood pressure, and pulse rate for making a diagnosis. They may also need to know your height and current weight for prescribing medications. Take all the vitals that you can ahead of time so you can provide this valuable information easily. (I know you may not have a blood pressure cuff—just do what you can.)

4. Find a quiet, well-lit space for the visit

Privacy can be hard to come by right now, but try to find a private space that’s quiet and where you won’t be interrupted. The time with your provider is still short; limiting distractions will help you make the most of the visit. And if migraine will allow you to have bright lights on, a well-lit space will help the provider read your non-verbal communication (like seeing the pain on your face). If you need to show them a place on your body, good lighting is essential. Be sure the light is coming from in front of you rather than behind you—if you're backlit, the provider won't be able to see your face.

5. Treat the appointment like any other medical visit

Come prepared with the symptoms you want to talk about and the questions you need to ask, have a loved one with you if you feel like you need an advocate, and have paper handy to take notes. This is your time, so you want the get the most out of it. From my experience, I’d also recommend observing social niceties, like introducing yourself! While this may feel unnecessary, it will help establish rapport. Having a connection with your provider can improve your care.

6. Ask how to follow up with further questions

With office staff potentially working remotely, the provider may be using different protocols for follow-up questions. Maybe you usually call, but the portal provides better access right now. That depends on the provider, so ask what the best approach is.

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