While the focus on COVID-19 fills almost every discussion on health nowadays, the fact remains that other illnesses are not social distancing. Heart attacks, stroke, and trauma are still filling the emergency rooms. Chronic conditions, cancer treatments, and some routine visits cannot be delayed. Providers are making changes to office visits and even expanding to telehealth. Here is what you need to know.
Routine Office Visits
Over the last few months, many routine appointments and yearly checkup appointments have been canceled. This has been done to allow for social distancing and maintain shelter in place orders.
As hospital systems see a decrease in COVID-19 patients, as well as an increase in testing capabilities and essential PPE (personal protective equipment such as gowns and masks), they are beginning to resume elective procedures and office visits.
The most important thing to remember is that your provider’s office has always been open. The providers and office staff are working as hard as ever to care for the patients that reach out to their office.
When you have any questions about your health, call your providers office. Let your physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant determine the next steps for your health concerns.
Reach out to the office like you have done in the past and call for an appointment. Some offices use a patient portal or email systems to send non-emergent questions to your provider (this is great when you tend to remember things late at night!)
In-Person or Virtual Visit?
There are some concerns that just warrant an office visit. But how can you know when you need to go into the office? Thankfully, you don’t need to stress over this.
In the new world of COVID-19, calls into the office are triaged a bit differently than in the past. While each office has its own protocol, this should give you a general idea of what to expect when you call:
- Your call will be triaged either by a registered nurse or a medical assistant. They will be asking you questions regarding your concerns.
- If your concerns warrant an in-person visit, you will be scheduled for an office visit.
- Office visits will look a little different, so expect a list of instructions on how your arrival will look different than in the past.
- No need for an in-person visit? You might still need to speak with your provider and could be offered a telehealth visit.
- Always reach out to the office anytime you have a concern.
The next steps are to prepare for your office visit or telehealth visit. Here’s what to expect:
Many offices have gone through great lengths to ensure social distancing and reduce transmission of the virus. This includes how you arrive at your appointment.
Again, each office will have it’s own procedure in place, but expect something similar:
- When arriving at the office, you’ll phone the office from your car to alert staff to your arrival.
- Regular check-in questions will probably happen over the phone.
- Have your mask ready, it should be required to wear as you enter the office.
- Hand sanitizer as well as temperature screening should occur once inside.
- You’ll remain in the exam room, with any paperwork, insurance card exchange, co-pays occurring here and not at the front desk.
- If the office set up has you “checking in” at the front desk, expect it to look a little different with social distance markings and possibly barriers in place.
- Bring your own pen, or ask for a clean pen before signing anything
- Expect all staff to be wearing a mask, as well as anyone providing direct care to you (taking your blood pressure, exams, etc.) to be wearing a face shield or goggles.
So, what happens if you do not need an inperson office visit, but still need to touch base with your provider? You might be offered a telehealth visit.
What is telehealth?
This can be either a phone call with your provider or possibly a video session. Video sessions are HIPPA compliant and usually done via a secure platform through a patient portal.
Before your visit you might need certain apps on your phone or login information for your desktop computer. This is usually only for video sessions.
Make sure you have everything set up and working the day before your visit to troubleshoot any issues with the office staff before your appointment. You might be sent a link via email, so make sure you have access to your email account.
While your appointment time might be set, allow for a window of time both before and after the scheduled time to be available. Flexibility is key as we start to navigate not only the visit, but also the technology portion of care.
When your appointment time arrives, you might actually receive two phone calls. The first call will check you in, ask questions and help prepare the doctor or nurse practitioner for your visit. The second call will be from the provider themselves.
During your appointment, have a notepad handy to write down notes. Have a list of your questions ready, as well as your medication list handy.
This might seem like a lot to keep track of – click here for our handy infographic on key points of telehealth calls!
Future of Healthcare Visits
It may seem different, but the key factor that has remained unchanged is the providers and staff are there for you and your health concerns.
As we slowly return to what will be our ‘new normal’, things will continue to change. Hopefully everyone will continue with patience, flexibility, and a good dose of humor as we try to ensure that everyone remains safe while receiving the health care they need.