Office Visits & Telehealth Medicine: Tips and Tricks

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:

Office Visit

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.

TeleHealth

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.

Startup Stock Photos

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.

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Nursing Decoded

Nursing decoded was created to share, educate, and collaborate with EVERYONE (patients, caregivers) and aspiring nurses, students, care technicians, nurses, APN's, and all medical providers. We have over 50 years of experience in medicine and have climbed the ladder through this amazing profession. Medicine and nursing is often complicated, exhilarating, exhausting, challenging, loving, and passionate. As Nurse Practitioners, we want to engage and educate people, patients and providers on how to decode, interpret, and navigate our healthcare world through the viewpoint of nursing. Our goal is to provide a consistent, easily accessible resource that clearly outlines, educates and informs on various topics of healthcare to help them interpret, decode and navigate their healthcare world.

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Marianne

    We haven’t needed to go to the doctor yet, but I’m sure the experience will be quite different. It’ was hard to get through the phone lines before Covid, I can’t imagine now!

  2. Danielle

    Such a timely, informative article! I think so many people hesitate to reach out to their medical professionals now because of the uncertainty, so this is a great starting point.

  3. Barbara

    Thank you for this information! Very helpful to hear new procedure processes. Thank you very much. Great post!

  4. Tricia Snow

    I love this. I hate going to Dr.s just for the mere fact I am never seen on time. Double booking is something I look at when choosing a doctor but sometimes you have no choice. I think Telehealth can make this better and I for one am looking forward to trying it.

  5. Leeandra

    Great information for people that may still need to see the doctor for other conditions.

  6. Holly

    I have had numerous Telehealth appointments and hope they keep them forever… I hate going to the doctor’s office and I find myself taking my own BP and more aware of my personal health!

  7. Angie

    With so many people avoiding the doctor’s office these days this post is really helpful. Thanks for putting it out there!

  8. Eva Keller

    I like that virtual visits have become more accessible. There’s times when I know I have a UTI and I just need the antibiotic and I shouldn’t have to take a day off work to sit in an urgent care office for 4 hours before being seen, just for them to tell me what I already know and then charge me hundreds of dollars. Now I can do a virtual visit for $50 and go down the street to my pharmacy and pick up what I need without any hassle.

  9. Lisa Manderino

    It is good to know which visit is the right one! I don’t think I will do tele visits unless I know exactly what is wrong like pink eye. But If i am really sick I would rather go to the doctor.

    1. Nursing Decoded

      You’d be surprised at what a handful of questions we can ask could save you a trip to the office (and decrease the chance of exposure) for something such as pink eye. That’s why it is always important to call with concerns!

  10. Heather

    My das has had several telehealth appointments. They have worked out quite well. Do the doctors bill differently for this?

    1. Nursing Decoded

      As of right now, it’s a work in progress for billing. From what I can tell it is less, but each insurance company is doing something different. I had two televisits as well with my provider so interested to see how it differs on my statements!

  11. Sara

    I am looking forward to there being a push for more telehealth visits. There are so many times over the years that I would’ve much rather been able to have a visit over the internet rather than having to haul my 4 kids to a crowded doctors office with other sick people.

  12. Sandi

    I had my first telehealth visit a few week ago, it was very convenient and a positive experience.

  13. Erica

    This is such good information. I had to take my middle daughter to her six-year-old wellness visit and it went very smoothly but was very different. Our temps were taken upon arrival and we were taken through a back way to us to the room. BUT overall, we both felt safe and it was very well organized!

  14. Alice

    During the month of April I was sick with bronchitis. I had 4 visits with a health care providers. The first one was a free visit ( through work) with a Doctor on Demand doctor. This was a video visit. She had me tested for COVID at the local hospital. I was negative but I was still sick so I had a phone visit with my primary provider, a nurse practitioner. A week later I still was not better so I went to the respiratory clinic. My last visit was because my cough had not gone away so I went back to the respiratory clinic. I’m finally well! Wish I had thought of a notebook at the beginning because I’m hard of hearing and it helps to write things down.

    1. Nursing Decoded

      Glad you are feeling better! I agree with the notepad, and curious if those with hearing impairments will be able to use a message screen as well as video in the future.

  15. Charlene

    I was never big on going to the doctor’s before all this began. It’s good to know that you guys are still there for us, though!

    1. Nursing Decoded

      We are! Trying to be as flexible and creative as we can! Doesn’t replace an in-person visit – those will always be needed at some point!

  16. Kendra

    Great information. I just recently had to experience a tele-visit, an e-visit, and a video visit all within 48 hours followed by a drive up COVID nasal swab test. Not fun!

  17. Lisa

    Great tips! We used telehealth for a virtual visit recently and it was so helpful

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