Plus, what to expect during your virtual visit.

By Lauren Wellbank
May 26, 2020
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Like virtual learning and work from home, a significant amount of medical care is now happening online. If you haven't experienced telehealth before—and have recently made an appointment—you may be unsure of what to expect from your first "visit." We spoke with two doctors who have embraced virtual healthcare to find out exactly what you can do to prepare for, as well as what you should expect from, your first session.

Getty / Maskot

Prepare a history.

Just like with an in-person visit, it's important to know your health history before you take part in a virtual appointment, says Dr. Kenneth Mark, a cosmetic dermatologist with practices in the Hamptons, Soho, and Aspen; be ready to answer questions about your own wellness, as well as share a family health history. Explain if you've started taking any new medications or if you're experiencing any issues—both are critical to help your doctor correctly treat or diagnose a problem. "Of course, the patient is not expected to be the doctor, but try to prepare for the virtual visit as you would for an in-person appointment," notes Dr. Mark.

Expect a shorter visit.

Cut out the travel time and the half-hour spent reading magazines in the waiting room, and it's easy to understand why teledoc appointments are generally shorter than in-person visits. Dr. Marie Hayag, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Fifth Avenue Aesthetics, confirms this, adding that they "are usually focused directly on the problem or complaint." Another reason for this? Many people just aren't as comfortable talking to their physicians virtually, which cuts down on small talk, she says.

Get comfortable with the technology.

Before your appointment, Dr. Hayag says to ensure that you have the app your doctor is using downloaded onto your phone or computer. "The patient, especially if their first virtual session, should log on before the visit to make sure they have no difficulties," she says. It's also important to conduct the visit in an area with good lighting—especially if you need to show your physician something on your skin, she notes. This might require enlisting the help of someone you are quarantined with, who might be able to direct the camera onto a hard-to-reach problem area, like your back.

Know that you can still go to the office.

Of course, if you have an issue that warrants an in-person visit (like the need for lab work or a biopsy), your doctor will bring you into the office. "Certain diagnoses can be made appropriately through video chat, but if I am concerned about a melanoma or another worrisome [diagnosis], I prefer an in office visit," says Dr. Hayag, "because there is a lot more emotional support that can be given in person, rather than on video."

It's safe.

According to Dr. Hayag, many healthcare workers are using secure telemedicine applications and practice portals for their online visits. This allows them to conduct virtual appointments in a private, password-protected, and HIPPA-compliant environment. "The recent surge in telemedicine's popularity was initially born of necessity. Because of this, there was a temporary relaxation of restrictions by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regarding patient confidentially due to COVID-19," she says. Regulations have since caught up: "Telemedicine regulations have caught up to match the existing technological advances in both patient privacy and connectivity."

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