Submitted by Paul Sherman, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Community Health Plan of Washington.
During these uncertain times, individuals and families across Washington state still require important physical and behavioral health check-ins with their primary care doctor or specialist. While the CDC recommends the public not visit healthcare facilities unless you have a life-threatening emergency or severe health symptoms, there are other ways to reach your doctor about your concerns. Telehealth solutions are making it possible for doctors to provide important care outside of the four walls of the doctor’s office by using telephone and video to monitor and maintain your health.
As defined by the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine is, “The delivery of any healthcare service or transmission of wellness information using telecommunications technology.” Telehealth encompasses telemedicine and other remote healthcare that does not always involve just clinical services, like videoconferencing, patient portals, remote monitoring of vital signs, and nursing call centers. While proving helpful during this pandemic, telehealth is a new healthcare term for many, and an unknown health process for many more. Below are five tips to help you navigate telehealth for the most convenient and safest option while ensuring the best experience possible.
1. Talk to your provider about telehealth.
Connect with your doctor or provider to understand if they offer telehealth visits. Many Community Health Centers, primary physicians, specialists, and behavioral health providers in Washington offer telehealth to their patients. If not, or if you don’t have a primary care provider, call your health insurer or visit their website to identify providers offering telehealth covered by your insurance. Many health plans, like Community Health Plan of Washington, offer telehealth access to nurses and doctors 24/7. Before scheduling an appointment, this is also a good time to check on copays with your health insurer and ask whether they are covering telehealth services due to the coronavirus.
There are also plenty of helpful telehealth apps and websites that track medications and support behavioral health. However, not all apps are created equal or evidence-based. Here is a list of reliable telemedicine apps for both physical and behavioral health concerns in case you cannot reach a doctor via your primary care provider or health insurance.
2. Set up the right environment for your telehealth visit.
During the telehealth appointment, you will talk with your healthcare provider like you normally would in a doctor’s office. To recreate that space as much as possible, identify a private and quiet place where you have good reception. If you are using a video application, troubleshoot your connection beforehand.
3. Prepare for your telehealth appointment.
Whether you scheduled the telehealth visit for a few symptoms, varying health issues, or a mental wellness check-in, make sure to write down the areas you would like to address during the appointment beforehand. While the provider will follow a series of standards, guidelines and best practices to ensure you receive quality care, a list will help you not forget anything important. You can even track what is triggering your symptoms to provide the doctor as much helpful information as possible. If you are speaking to a telehealth doctor who is not your primary doctor, have a list of ongoing conditions and medications you are currently taking to update the physician.
4. Utilize at-home tools to assess your health.
If you have a medical device in your home, like a thermometer, scale or even an at-home blood pressure monitor/cuff, let your doctor know. All these health tools can come in handy depending on your symptoms and help your doctor diagnose your physical health condition. You can also use your phone to take a photo of physical symptoms, like a rash, and send the image to your doctor for additional insights.
5. Remember emergencies are emergencies, even during COVID-19.
If you think you have an urgent problem, it is best not to wait for a scheduled telehealth appointment. Some health plans, like Community Health Plan of Washington, offer a nurse-advice line that provides support 24/7 and can help you decide if you should go to urgent care, the hospital, or connect you with a doctor for further evaluation. If you experience severe or sudden, life-threatening symptoms like chest pain or difficulty breathing, always call 911.
There are a variety of telehealth tools and access points to serve the unique needs for people across Washington. By following these tips, you can better leverage telehealth during the pandemic to reach your doctor and continue to support your health and wellbeing.