Making the Most of Telemedicine Visits
If you’re like me right now, all of your medical appointments have become video-chat sessions for the foreseeable future, if they haven’t been postponed indefinitely. Personally, I prefer seeing a provider in person, but I’ll take what I can get.
Video visits are referred to by a number of names, mainly telehealth and telemedicine. The APA calls it telepsychology, because… neologisms are fun. Try it for yourself – telepsychiatry, teleneurology, telerheumatology! I will stick with “telemedicine,” since it conveniently can be applied to all online and phone visits for medical purposes.
There are a lot of differences between an in-person visit and a telemedicine appointment, aside from the obvious difference of being there vs. not being there.
- The dynamic is different – you probably feel different talking to someone in person, on the phone, and on video chat.
- You lose some elements of body language during a telemedicine visit, since you can’t see the whole person.
- A lot of tests and examinations simply can’t be done online, not to mention imaging like x-rays and MRIs.
- You have to fiddle/work with video or phone equipment, which may malfunction on either end. This can disrupt the appointment.
- Instead of being in a space designated for medical appointments, you’re somewhere like your living room. Even if there’s no one else around, this can interfere with your attention.
To adapt to these differences, you have to make sure that they don’t become distractions.
How to Adjust
First of all, it’s important to still follow good practices for getting ready for an appointment. That includes being ready at least 5 minutes before the appointment time.
If you can, have your appointment in a quiet and clutter-free place. If you have a car, you could even sit in your car during the appointment.
Don’t worry about good lighting, your background, or whether your face looks squished or something. Though this is important for work meetings and similar things, it isn’t important during medical appointments. In fact, many programs allow you to hide the video of yourself, so you can only see the other person. We all know how distracting it is to try to interact with someone while staring at a mirror (looking at you, restaurants). So if you can, turn off your video preview. It’s OK of course to give yourself a quick look, just like you might before any appointment.
Get ready for the appointment the same way you would if you were going in person. This means putting on real clothes, combing your hair, putting on makeup – whatever you normally do to go into the outside world. For those of you who usually go out into the world in their pajamas, feel free to ignore this advice.
During the Visit
For therapist visits, the most important thing to do first is to talk about how the dynamic feels different (because it just does). For me, that meant talking about how I was distracted by the ability to look things up on my computer during the meeting, how I was distracted by clutter, how I felt less connected than I did in person, and how it felt a bit harder to open up. It’s important to do this because it gets the issue out of the way, and that allows you to go back to working on what you were before you moved to telemedicine visits. Or move on, whichever.
For visits with a psychiatrist (or another professional who prescribes your medications), make sure you prepare as you normally would have, with a list of side effects, residual symptoms, things that need improvement, and questions. Since the personal dynamic isn’t as important for these visits as it is for therapy, it will hopefully be less of an issue.
Don’t Give Up
Following these tips will help you make sure you don’t waste time during your appointments, and will help you keep the quality of your care up. If you feel like you just aren’t getting the same level of help as you do from in-person visits, again, mention it and try to figure out what you and your provider can do. It’s especially crucial during times of stress to make sure your healthcare isn’t interrupted or compromised.