by Gwenn Herman, LCSW, DCSW

Many patients are trying out telemedicine for the first time as a result of COVID-19. But figuring out the technology can be overwhelming, and you may find it difficult to get your concerns and needs across in a remote setting.

Below, I’ve outlined some tips for how to get the most of your virtual appointment.

  • Before you have your appointment, take the time to write out your questions and concerns.
  • If possible, don’t attend the telemedicine session alone. It is helpful to have someone with you. Sometimes it is hard to remember everything that is said to you when you are in pain and nervous about a visit.
  • If a caregiver will be on the call with you, share your list of questions with them. Have them write down the doctor’s instructions. They can also be an advocate for you. Remember to introduce your caregiver to the doctor.
  • Situate your webcam where you feel comfortable, for example, lying on a mat on the floor, propped up in bed wearing your street clothes, sitting in a chair with pillows, leaning against a wall. If needed, have a glass of water or tea with you. It is an important opportunity for the doctor to see how you acclimate in everyday life and not in an office setting.
  • Secure a private place for the appointment whether you are in your home, office, or car. It is important not to have distractions or background noise. Ensure that there is adequate lighting, so the doctor has a clear view of your face. Have ready X-rays, MRIs, medical reports, a list of medications, herbs, oils, vitamins, supplements, medical cannabis, and reactions to them ready for your provider.
  • A medical appointment can be very intimidating when pain is invisible, especially if this is your first time using telemedicine. Remember, it is your body and you have a right to quality care.
  • It may also be the first time that your provider is performing a telemedicine appointment, so your provider may also feel uncomfortable or awkward. It is a new development and there is a certain amount of trial and error. Be patient with each other.
  • It may be helpful to role-play how you will speak to your provider. This might be necessary in helping you work on needed assertiveness skills.
  • If this is a first visit, feel free to ask the doctor about prior experience with your specific condition.
  • When you talk about your pain, give concrete examples of how pain impacts you, such as sleep issues, missed days at work, family life, cooking, cleaning, sexual intimacy, hobbies—what it feels like, what activity makes it worse, how long the pain lasts.
  • If your doctor orders tests, ask about the following: what the tests are, the actual procedures, recovery time, if a caretaker is needed to provide transportation, aftercare, how to contact your doctor in case of emergency, and follow-up.
  • If you are prescribed medication: ask what it does, write down how and when to take it, ask about possible side effects, find out what to do in the event of a bad reaction, ask how to contact the doctor.
  • You may request that copies of office visit records and medical results for your personal records be sent to your home.

I’ve also developed a handout that can help you organize your questions and concerns before and during your appointment. You can download it here.

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MIDDLETOWN, CONN., APRIL, 16, 2020 – Without adequate telehealth, individuals with chronic health issues face a difficult choice: receive in-person care and put themselves at risk of COVID-19, or deal with increased symptoms and worsening health. This and other findings are part of a report released today by the U.S. Pain Foundation, the largest nonprofit for the 50 millions Americans who live with chronic pain.

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