“At least the automatic lights won’t turn off on me.” I text my husband downstairs while I sat in front of my computer waiting for a FaceTime from my rheumatologist. A few years ago I was in an exam room waiting long enough for the lights that were set on an automatic timer to turn off and leave me laughing, confused, in the dark.
The prospect of sitting in my own home and drinking my morning coffee, instead of waking up early and starting the long, arduous journey to the local medical center that involves a massive parking garage and one of the slowest elevators I’ve ever encountered, was absolute bliss.
Over the last several years, I’ve experienced anxiety at the thought of a doctor’s appointment. Even now, thinking about it, my heart is beating a little bit faster. Each and every step in the process makes me feel “off” and I’m nervous that with each new piece of medical information they search for, from weight to blood pressure, they will find something wrong. I know I’m not the only one, or the term “White Coat Syndrome” wouldn’t exist.
But here I was on a Monday morning, no anxiety, just my two cats sleeping next to me on the couch in our home office.
My appointment was set for 8:40am, but when I received my confirmation call the week prior, I was told that I would get a call from the office 20 minutes prior to get checked in and then the doctor would call me via FaceTime (they also use Zoom for those who aren’t in the Apple ecosystem) at my appointment time.
At 8:15am, I received my first phone call from the office verifying all my basic details like phone number, address, emergency contact, insurance info, etc. They immediately then patched me through to someone else in the office to confirm my medications, ask if I was having any pain that particular day (this question is always a little baffling to me), and see if I had a way to check my own blood pressure at home. All told, this took no more than five minutes.
A little after 9:00am, my rheumatologist called via FaceTime. As a fully remote worker, almost all of my meetings are conducted with a video call so it took me a minute to go from professional leading a meeting to patient leaning on my doctor to guide the exam. The appointment itself started just like any other. Back in the fall, the doctor switched some of my medications, so there was plenty of talk surrounding those changes. She filled me in on her perspective regarding patients who take similar medications to mine in the face of COVID-19, and I would highly recommend anyone with a chronic disease have the same conversation with your own specialists during this time. And finally it was time for the physical exam. I can only imagine how difficult this must have been for her. I showed her my hands (my biggest problem area) over the video and she had me rotate them in a way that I looked like I was waving in a one-person parade. The exam was less than a half hour. Someone from the office called me immediately following to set up my next appointment.
In the last decade, telehealth has grown rapidly with a majority of all U.S. hospitals using video and other forms of technology to connect with patients and practitioners in other locations.¹ Telemedicine continues to be a critical asset for those in rural areas who may not have the same access to healthcare as those in more urban settings.²
Over the last month we’ve seen what is possible in a remote space — concerts and festivals have moved online with artists performing from their couches, entire companies have asked their employees to work from home, and doctors have embraced telemedicine in their practices. Just like live-streamed performances and remote working, telemedicine isn’t new, but the idea of widespread adoption of telemedicine for those suffering from chronic diseases opens up more possibilities for swathes of people in different locations and with varying circumstances. If done well, we’ll no longer be bound by the best physician in our city or town, but will be given an opportunity to explore the best fit for us as individuals, and the prospect of that is almost as blissful as enjoying a cup of coffee with sleeping cats nearby.
: American Hospital Association. (February 2019). Fact Sheet: Telehealth https://www.aha.org/factsheet/telehealth
: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (May 31, 2019) Telehealth in Rural Communities https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/telehealth-in-rural-communities.htm