Laptop featuring telehealth visit with frustrated patient and doctor whose camera is turned off.

Virtual Visits: Managing Migraine Through A Screen

As tends to happen every couple of years or so, I am once again on the hunt for new care. I can hear the virtual collective sigh of understanding in the community now: many know all too well the constant journey to find good, and sometimes any, care. It can seem like a never-ending journey to find the right care, and sometimes we have to start all over because of circumstances.

Searching for new and reliable migraine care

In the current climate, with insurance statuses for so many people changing rapidly, and in some cases, geographical changes as well, searching for new care is a regular occurrence. It goes without saying that having consistent and reliable care is a huge milestone for many folks who are chronically ill, but sometimes it just isn’t possible. I feel lucky to have coverage right now and even with the challenges of starting again, I know it is a privilege to be able to access medical care at all.

Changing times because of COVID-19

Earlier this summer, I was suddenly looking for a new home and relocated to a new city due to COVID-19. Along with that change came the loss of access to the doctors I was seeing for migraine management. I also had a change of insurance with my employer, as well as a loss in income. Due to these changes, I am in the process of finding new and affordable care, and for those of us living with migraine, that is no easy feat. This time around though, there are new virtual options.

Telehealth services are now offered

Many healthcare providers are now offering telehealth services through apps and on the web in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. My new current health plan offers an app that allows me to both search for providers in my network and set up appointments at the click of a button. Pretty neat! While this new world of virtual care offers some great benefits, I’ve noticed that for me it comes with drawbacks too. Here is my experience using virtual care over the past several months.

Ease of access

The first thing I noticed when I began my search for new care virtually is that I can easily filter through my insurance provider’s app for in-network coverage by specialty, location, and other applicable filters. I am able to search through specialists and primary physicians: read about them, assess their distance from me, and even filter by illness and symptoms. I can also access urgent care doctors. This is a huge barrier lifted! Rather than searching the internet and sifting through pages of options and calling to see if my insurance is accepted, I can see right through the app. It also allows me to see providers for different issues in one place: dentists, headache specialists, therapists are all accessible through different pages on my app.

Quick responses

One of the best features I’ve used so far is the Tele-visit, which allows me to connect with a doctor in minutes after filling out a questionnaire. I can call in straight from my bed to speak with a doctor about my needs. Through this process, I am able to save time, mileage, and energy. Rather than traveling to meet a new care provider and possibly not having a fruitful experience, I can contact someone from the comfort of my home and, whether that visit is good or bad, I know that I am saving a lot of stress typically associated with doctor’s visits. This is also a huge benefit while living with migraine, because there are plenty of times where I simply can not drive due to being too ill. Now, I can just pick up my phone and wait for the other line to pick up.

Avoiding the waiting room

Another benefit is avoiding the waiting room, which can be stressful and uncomfortable for everyone there. Perhaps one of my favorite benefits so far is being able to share my medical history and needs and having my prescriptions called in virtually. What was once a trip to the office, a long wait, a long visit, a long wait for the prescriptions to be ready, and then a drive to the pharmacy is now a phone call and a trip to the pharmacy drive-thru. The ease is much welcome in my life which is both busy and full of limitations on moving out and about.

Losing time

While virtual visits have saved me some time, it comes with the opposite problem. So far I have had a few virtual visits with a new provider, and they always seem to go too quickly. Maybe it is just the doctors I have seen thus far or the increased need and attention healthcare providers are having to provide to so many, but I definitely feel like I am on a crunch before they need to get to the next patient on the phone. This makes it all the more important that I have my medical information handy, my trackers and journals up, and my asks clearly ready to communicate. I keep a log of changes in my health using a number of different apps, like Migraine Buddy, so it is easy to switch between apps during a visit to share information. This extra preparation helps me get the most out of a quick visit.

Impersonal visits

This quick style of visitation also has left me feeling as though the care is impersonal on occasion. Building a relationship with a care provider takes time, and that is true whether in person or online. Still, not having that in-person communication to assess non-verbal language can prove to be a challenge, and the screen separation only adds to that.

Challenges with security

Another challenge is the security of my information. While I trust that my insurance app does not share my data and keeps it secure, I do wonder about the security of our devices in general. I think a good system for virtual healthcare should include notices to patients about how their information is securely stored and used.

Taking the bad with the good

Even with the challenges presented by care through a screen, I do think it has provided a huge amount of relief when travel is so limited for many of us right now. I feel safe, relatively secure in using telehealth, and I appreciate that I am able to access care more urgently than ever before if I need it. I think even after the pandemic, I will continue to use telehealth services for some things, and I hope that I am able to overcome the barrier of struggling to build a trusting relationship with doctors through this medium.

Have you utilized telehealth services in the management of your migraines? What has your experience been like? Let's discuss in the comments!

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