1950 House Call
I grew up in the 1950s when doctors made house calls. My mother rang up an operator from a wooden telephone on the kitchen wall and was connected to Doc Gray. Although we lived four miles from town, she took care of us day or night. I remember Doc Gray sitting on the edge of my bed and watching over me when I had the mumps, measles, chicken pox and flu. Her black bag and pink liquid medicine intrigued me as she was never without either one. Although I was sick and often was given that icky pink stuff, I liked Doc Gray to come to the house.
2020 Virtual Call
Seventy years later, a telephone still connects me to a doctor. But a few things have changed. A phone is now smart, and a house call is virtual. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services expanded telemedicine coverage due to COVID-19. During a six-week period in April and May, I had three telemedicine appointments using digital technology. From the safety and convenience of my home, my healthcare providers observed my condition, assessed medication changes, conducted a neurological exam and transmitted a prescription.
13 Tips for a Successful Telemedicine Appointment
1. Get specific instructions on how the appointment will be conducted? Will it be FaceTime, a Zoom meeting or some other app? Is it best to use your smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer?
2. Download any necessary apps and test in advance. If you encounter difficulties, contact your healthcare provider for additional help. Practice again. For example, if your provider is going to use Zoom, you could do a practice meeting with a family member.
3. Plan in advance where to set devices for clear images. Take into consideration lighting and glare. Is anyone else going to be in the room? How does seating area look? Do you need to remove clutter?
4. If you have journal notes that you want the provider to review in advance, arrange the transfer with office personnel.
5. Prepare just as you would for an office consultation. What are two or three questions that you need to ask? Review notes from last visit. What has changed? What follow-up questions can you expect your provider to ask you?
6. Be aware if you need any prescriptions refilled. Request 90-day prescriptions. Have the name of the pharmacy, phone number and drug bottle handy.
7. Record your weight, blood pressure and temperature prior to appointment if these procedures would commonly be done in office. If you do not have a blood pressure cuff, you will find a wide selection online. Your provider may also want to watch you take blood pressure, sitting and standing. Keep cuff nearby.
8. Inform other household members to avoid interruptions. Arrange to have someone on standby to operate the camera if your provider conducts an examination.
9. Charge electronic devices and check connections prior to appointment.
10. Situate ten minutes prior to start of appointment. Have pen, paper, notes and water handy. Quiet the area by turning off background noise. Move curious pets and/or children to another room. Power up any needed devices. Do 1-minute deep breathing calming meditation.
11. Be clear at end of appointment what happens next? Will staff call you to schedule follow-up appointment? How is payment handled? When will prescriptions be transmitted?
12. Be patient. It is not unusual for there to be technical challenges. Both your healthcare provider and you are learning together.
13. Treat the telemedicine appointment as the real deal. Be willing to give it a try even though this tool has not been readily available to you prior to COVID-19. You may discover this time-saving, hassle-free alternative is right for you.
For further information regarding coverage, visit https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Medicare-General-Information/Telehealth/Telehealth-Codes