Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth appointments quickly have become the norm. But for many people, this is the first time they’ve been exposed to the option of seeing a provider remotely.

Should your first appointment be approaching, Albert Ferreira, director of telehealth operations at the Center for Digital Health Innovation at the MetroHealth System in Brooklyn Heights; Dr. Jennifer Hohman, executive vice president of NOMS Healthcare and family physician in Fremont; and D. Michael Kelly, market manager at NovaCare Cleveland East in Cleveland Heights, offer advice to make it easier.

Ferreira said before a patient’s appointment, they should do a dry run.

“Try to do a dry run of the tech or tools, because even though it’s very easy most times, it’s about getting comfortable and familiar using the tools,” he said. “For example, you should be able to turn the volume up and down, as well as making sure your microphone is working and the person on the other end can hear you.”

As far as what to expect, Ferreira said just approach it as a telephone call, but with a video component.

“It’s so you can see and hear the person,” he explained. “This is very helpful as it makes it feel natural and real, so you can read expressions and things like that.”

At NOMS, Hohman said patients are texted or sent an email with a link in it, which takes patients directly to the appointment with their provider.

“You can use your cellphone camera or computer to connect with your doctor,” she said. “Very soon, you will be able to do the entire check-in process on your phone. You will be able to fill in your personal information, send a picture of your insurance card, and pay your co-pay.”

She added due to the pandemic, many insurance companies cover telehealth, as well as waive co-pays and deductibles for the appointments. But, each patient should check with his or her insurance provider for specific benefits.

After determining the technical component of the appointment, Kelly said NovaCare patients should expect custom guidance specific to their care and injury.

“A physical therapist will listen to the patient to determine any limitations they may have, with the goal being to find out the source of the injury, pain or weakness and address it during the telerehab treatment session,” he noted. “A patient can expect to experience one-on-one time with a therapist who can help them feel better through exercise. Some patients work on strength and some on stretching. Some patients sweat, some do not. It depends on the patient’s injury, fitness level and goals.”

With his patients, Ferreira said he likes it when they have their discussion topics or questions prepared before their appointment.

“In the event they have any technical issues, what ends up happening is (patients) can end up switching their mentality and forget what they want to discuss,” he said. “So, it’s always good to write things down and have them next to you. Be mindful of what is going on in the background, as it can be distracting for you and the person you’re communicating with.”

Other things to be aware of include a secure internet connection, good lighting and a lot of space to move around should a provider need you to, Kelly said.

Also, Kelly added patients should try to be as prepared as possible, as this allows for more efficient care during a time where providers may be busier than normal.

“Compared to a normal physician appointment, there is a specific time where a (provider) may need to end the appointment to start the next call,” he explained. “So, it would be good to make sure the call starts on time, with no setup issues to maximize the time you have together.”

Ferreira added, “We’re trying to be as efficient as possible to reach out and touch as many patients as we can. Telehealth allows us to interact with and see more patients, but it does not eliminate the need for the people in these visits to be comfortable with the technology. If you’re a patient and only do these once a year, you might not be as comfortable as a provider that does it all the time. You don’t want them to spend more time helping you navigate the tool than providing care.”

If you’re feeling nervous attending a telehealth appointment, Hohman explained patients will still get the same great care they expect.

“Change is hard, but can be good,” she said. “Telemedicine is here to stay, and many recognize how this type of care will improve health care in the future. Imagine being able to connect with your doctor from home when you can’t drive.”

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