King County residents have been turning to medical virtual visits, also known as telemedicine, more than ever during the coronavirus pandemic. While telemedicine companies have been around for years, the pandemic has led to a dramatic increase in virtual visits as primary care doctors, specialists and hospitals began offering the service as a way to help keep patients safe.
Now that medical offices and hospitals are accepting patients again for in-person visits and elective procedures, you may be wondering if you should return to your doctor’s office or stick to a virtual visit. Rest assured, your health care providers can help you decide what’s best as they work to ensure safe care for patients and staff. This includes changing the ways they deliver care like screening patients ahead of time to help determine if it’s best to go to a medical office or stay at home.
If it’s determined that an in-person visit is best for you, you’ll find that to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, many facilities are taking the following steps:
·Screening arriving patients for COVID-19 symptoms and providing a mask and hand hygiene supplies before entering the center.
·Screening every employee for COVID-19 every shift and requiring them to wear masks at all times and appropriate personal protective equipment.
·Treating suspected and symptomatic COVID-19 patients in designated areas only.
·Promoting physical distancing with new clinic layouts.
·Cleaning and disinfecting exam rooms between each patient visit, and regularly disinfecting high-traffic and high-touch areas.
If you don’t require in-person attention, a virtual visit is still a good option. Many people are choosing virtual visits in non-emergency situations for routine follow-ups and non-life-threatening conditions. This option allows you to consult your doctor or other health care providers in your network via a secure video or phone appointment, all in the comfort of your home. Before your telehealth visits:
·Make a list of all the medications – prescription and over-the-counter – that you take and include the name, address and phone number of your pharmacy.
·Write down details about your symptoms, concerns, pain and feelings.
·Take digital photos of any injury, rash or other visible concern.
·Have your insurance ID card available.
·Use a phone, tablet or computer that’s connected to the internet. If you’ve never video-chatted before, consider a practice run with a friend or family member to work out the process and check the microphone and speakers. Headphones or ear buds provide better sound quality and more privacy.
·Have your home thermometer, bathroom scale, glucometer or blood-pressure monitor nearby.
Many area medical offices offer both virtual and in-person visits with extra precautions in place. In the Greater Seattle Area, patients and their caregivers who visit a physician who is part of the Seattle Medical Group (SMG) will have their temperatures taken while they wait in their cars, and then they are brought directly to the examination room.
Whether you choose a virtual or in-person visit, check with your health insurance provider to see if they’ve taken steps to help ease the burden during the health crisis. For example, Humana is waiving cost sharing (including copays, coinsurance and deductibles) for in-network primary care, outpatient behavioral health and virtual visits for our Medicare Advantage members for the remainder of the calendar year.
Getting the care you need is always important. Consider these options to stay safe and healthy. And remember, for life-threatening emergencies, such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, or suicidal thoughts, always call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room. Bottom line, don’t delay care because you are worried about contracting COVID-19.
By Richard Smith, MD, Intermountain Regional Vice President of Health Services Humana