A woman sitting on her couch while on a video call with a physician.

Virtual care—also known as telemedicine--has revolutionized health care.— And it’s here to stay.

COVID-19 may have initiated the trend locally, but doctors and patients alike will keep it going post-pandemic, predicts Ryan Walsh, MD, MMM, ABFM, ABPM, FAAFP, chief medical information officer of Ambulatory and Population Health at Memorial Hermann Health System and family practice physician at Memorial Hermann Medical Group Pearland.

With virtual care, not only do you help to prevent the spread of contagious illnesses, he says, “but you don’t have to take a good chunk out of your workday to go. You also eliminate a commute and cut waiting room time. Why would you not want to do that?”

What else should you know about virtual care? Dr. Walsh shares the 411.

One. Virtual care has lots to offer.

You can talk with your health care provider about your symptoms and concerns. Your doctor also can examine your body via Skype, Zoom, FaceTime or other platforms, and make diagnoses and treatment plans, Dr. Walsh says.

Just as they would otherwise, physicians can send orders electronically for screening tests and for new or changed prescriptions. Once exam results are available, your health care provider can give them to you virtually, via the clinic’s patient portal, by phone or in person, as you and the physician prefer.

Two. However, virtual care doesn't work for everything.

“If you have crushing chest pain or are seriously ill, don’t log onto your doctor’s patient portal,” he says. “Call 911 and/or go to the emergency room.”

Generally, virtual care works well for most ailments that take you to your health care provider or urgent care clinic.. But it doesn’t substitute for emergency room care, where clinicians need to see what’s going on and possibly treat.

“Most things we can do over a video connection,” Dr. Walsh says. “But physicians cannot feel lumps, listen to your lungs or sew up wounds virtually.”

Mammograms, blood work, urinalysis, vision exams, procedures and vaccines for shingles, flu, tetanus and other diseases also must be done in person. And new doctors most likely will want to see you in their clinic for your first physical or specialty appointment.

Otherwise, much of standard care can be handled efficiently via video or audio appointments, he says. For minor ailments such as colds, sore throat, flu or bladder infections, you can have the same discussion with your health care provider via telehealth as you would in the office. The same applies to behavioral therapy and regular monitoring of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Three. Virtual visits can be done on a smart phone, tablet or computer.

If you’re tech-adverse, your doctor’s staff can guide you on how to set up. And in some cases, a phone call will be sufficient.

Four. Get ready, set, go.

Do a trial run before your session to make sure your Internet is working that day and you have the correct link to your doctor’s platform. Choose a setting that is well lit, quiet and provides privacy and no distractions—not an office cubicle or your car, Dr. Walsh says.

Five. You'll get the best results, if you come prepared.

Just as you should before an office visit, jot down questions you’d like answered, along with a list of your prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines and supplements, including dosages. It also helps to have a family health history, as well as dates for your previous surgeries or hospitalizations. “That way you get the most out of the appointment,” he says.

Your health care provider can alert you to data you should collect in advance. Helpful are a thermometer and tools you already use for a chronic condition, such as a blood glucose meter for diabetes and a blood pressure cuff for hypertension.

Also, if you’d accompany your child, parent or spouse to an in-office appointment, you can and should do the same for their virtual appointment, Dr. Walsh says.

The information in this article was accurate as of July 7, 2020.

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