By: Janet Jay

With the explosion of COVID-19 and widespread social isolating, many people are using telemedicine appointments for the first time. “Telemedicine” may sound intimidating, but really, it simply means conducting your appointment over the phone or an online videoconferencing service. Whether you’re directly looking for a telemedicine appointment or have been offered one as a substitute for an in-person consultation, you should contact your insurance company to make sure they cover it and if there are any out-of-pocket costs.

Here are some easy ways you can prepare to make the most of your next virtual appointment.

1. Prepare in advance

Telemedicine appointments sometimes seem to go faster than they would in person– without travel, time in the waiting room, and interactions with nurses and office staff, you have less time to get your thoughts in order before jumping right into your interaction with the doctor. You may be tempted to chat about personal items or the current crisis, but make sure you leave plenty of time to focus on your health needs. Prior to your appointment, sit down and write out what your goals are.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why did you need to see the doctor?
  • Are there any symptoms that you need to mention?
  • What questions do you have that you need to see addressed?
  • Do you need to get or discuss test results?
  • Do you need to renew a prescription or have a medication explained?

Putting these all on paper will help you organize your thoughts and make sure that you don’t miss mentioning anything important. You also may want to have the same information ready that you would at an in-person appointment, like your current medications and allergies.

2. Sort out your tech

If you’re using a videoconferencing program, make sure it’s installed and working (and that you know how it works)! If you’ve never used it before and aren’t sure, make a test call and/or research the program online before your appointment. Make sure the computer is plugged in and has sufficient power to last through the appointment. You should also close any other programs or tabs that may slow down your computer or your internet connection. Put the camera at eye level and make sure your appointment area is well-lit.

3. Get ready

Set a timer for 10 minutes before your appointment time. Put the dogs outside, shut the cat in another room, tell the kids to play quietly. Get your notes and the list of things you want to address in front of you. If you have pictures that you want the doctor to evaluate, sort them into a folder together, and have it ready. If you plan to email them, spend this time drafting the email and getting it ready to press send. You want to make the absolute most of every second of the doctor’s time– you don’t want to be scrolling through a thousand photos on your phone or having to double-check an email address while they’re sitting there. If you use an app to track symptoms on a daily basis, make sure to have that data open or easily available to share, too.

4. Make the most of your time

Once your appointment begins, pick up your list, and start moving through it. If you have pictures or other supplementary materials, make sure your doctor knows from the beginning of the interaction that you are sending them for review.

You might want to take notes of what the doctor is saying. While it’s easy to jot notes down on the bottom of the list you made, with a video or phone interview, you sometimes have the choice to record the interaction and review it later.

After you hang up: relax! You’re already home. So give yourself a treat for making the most of your telemedicine appointment!

Janet Jay has been dealing with chronic pain and depression since she was in early high school. Despite these challenges, she’s spent over a decade working in communications and freelance journalism, where she has been published in outlets like Maxim, Vice Motherboard, and Popular Science. She’s also a writer for U.S. Pain Foundation and the INvisible Project.