The COVID-19 pandemic was tragic for some and disruptive to most. Yet it also accelerated innovation. Just as the technology developed during World War II helped birth everything from the space program and personal computing to microwaves, lockdowns during 2020 sped up remote work and telehealth. Although not having to drive to your doctor reduces aggravation and anxiety, it can be an adjustment. Trading face-to-face contact for a video chat definitely has its drawbacks. Still, with a bit of preparation you may find your quality of care unchanged––even improved. To help the gastroenterologist help you, you need to get ready. Here are some tips for preparing for a GI telehealth visit.
Before Your Telehealth Visit
In April of 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued new rules designed to improve access for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to telehealth services. Because of lockdowns and ongoing capacity issues at hospitals, that access has continued into 2021. Regardless of whether or not doctors have patients on government-issued insurance, many expanded their telehealth practice.
Although telehealth seems like a modern invention, its roots go back to the 1800s. Not long after Alexander Graham Bell invented the first practical telephone, doctors started communicating with patients who were miles away. In fact, the first words transmitted telephonically were Bell’s famous request for medical assistance: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you.” Turns out the inventor had spilled acid onto his clothes.
In 1925, Hugo Gernsback described a device in the pages of Science magazine that he called the Teledactyl (from the Greek words for far––“tele” and finger––“dactyl.”) Unfortunately, the tech he imagined had not been invented yet. But by the 21st century, it became common for rural physicians to patch specialists into their office video conference with patients.
No matter the speciality, collecting medical history and listening to symptoms are a vital component of treatment. Telehealth can accomplish this as seamlessly as an in-person visit. As Dr. Megan M. Chiarelli, medical director of behavioral health integration with the Facey Medical Group in Mission Hills, California, explains “the history the patient provides is always one of the most important pieces of a medical visit. With telemedicine, we can still gather all of the history and many important pieces of the examination.”
As the patient, you need to do your part. When you make an appointment, you’ll often be told to expect a call a few days before it actually happens. So one thing you can do is keep a careful record of your symptoms. This medical journal should also include the dates and times when symptoms occurred, unusual events, or dietary changes. Shortly before the appointment, compile a one-page summary of your journal. This document should include not only your personal information but prior diagnoses and surgeries along with any medications and herbal or other supplements you are currently taking. Even if you wind up copying this info onto an online form, it will be helpful to have it handy.
Although the GI can certainly ask you questions over the phone, it will be more valuable to conduct a video conference. Fortunately, most doctors practicing telehealth provide tutorials and info on the software they use––which is as user friendly as that being used by remote workers. You won’t need super high speed internet. If you can stream a movie, you can video conference. Of course, if you’re generally challenged by online platforms, you may want a trusted friend or relative to help you set everything up and test it before your appointment. It’s a good idea to have someone like that nearby during your appointment to assist you with recalling symptoms or other issues anyway. Generally speaking, you’ll have less anxiety in your own home than you would in a medical center. Still, it’s easy to forget in the moment what you meant to ask your doctor.
Chances are you’ll be asked to fill out forms related not only to your own symptoms but your family medical history. It’s important for the GI to know if a relative has experienced irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or colon cancer, for example. Unlike in-person visits where patients were once handed a stack of forms to complete upon arrival, you’ll often have the time to complete these days before the appointment. This means your attention and that of your GI will be focused on you, the patient, during the entire visit.
You may be asked to weigh yourself before the appointment. If you’ve monitored your blood pressure before, you may be asked to provide this as well. Although testing and endoscopic procedures still need to be performed in an office, telehealth will reduce the amount of time you spend there. That’s why most patients who have used it recommend it as a very good option.
With a bit of preparation, you and your GI doctor can have a very productive visit, even if it’s not in person. You may even find you prefer telehealth visits whenever you get the chance to choose.
Written by John Bankston
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