5 Tips to Prepare for a Telehealth Appointment

When you used to think of a typical doctor’s appointment, you might conjure up images of waiting rooms, stethoscopes and maybe stickers.

Now, that image has changed quite a bit. With the world shifting to increasingly remote communication amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, health appointments are often being limited to extended phone calls and video interactions. This is referred to as “telehealth.”

Not only does this create a huge shift for physicians in how they provide care, but also for patients who aren’t sure how to receive it.

We want to clear up some of that uncertainty. We asked Dr. Archelle Georgiou, a nationally recognized healthcare thought leader with 20+ years of experience, to share her advice on how to prepare for a telehealth visit. We also got feedback from the CaringBridge Facebook community, many of whom have been seen virtually in the last few months. 

Read on for 5 steps to prepare for a virtual doctor’s appointment, so you can get the most out of your telehealth experience.

1. Have the Right Technology

Telehealth is most effective if you have a computer, a phone or a tablet with a camera. A virtual visit without video is essentially just a phone call, which may not be as effective since the provider cannot observe any physical symptoms or your physical expressions during the interview.

Download and install any video chat apps you need to use well ahead of your scheduled visit time. Early in the pandemic, as provider rushed to make telehealth available, they used popular videoconferencing apps like FaceTime and Skype. However, since they do not have the right level of healthcare privacy and security built in, many providers are transitioning to different platforms. Make sure to ask your provider which app you should use and how to sign in.

Once you have your app set up, figure out a way to prop your device up so that you can be hands-free during the visit. 

You can also schedule Zoom video calls through the CaringBridge Planner.

SummaryUse a computer/phone/tablet with a camera. Download the proper telehealth app, and ask your provider if you don’t know which to use. Set up your device for hands-free communication.

2. Prepare Medical Information

Once you’re comfortable with the technology setup, take time to prepare for the medical part of the visit. Many offices ask you to complete and return symptom and history forms by the day before your appointment, and they may cancel and re-schedule if your forms aren’t submitted by the deadlines. Not ideal for either of you!

Make sure to jot down notes for yourself for the predictable questions you’ll be asked during the visit itself:  When did your symptoms start? What makes them worse? What makes them better? If you have pain…what are the characteristics? Is it burning, shooting, cramping, tingling?

Too often patients are trying to think through the answers to these questions for the first time during the visit, which wastes precious time. 

SummaryPrepare the necessary forms by the due date. Have symptom information prepared: when symptoms started, what makes them better/worse, and pain characteristics.

3. Conduct Your Own Physical Exam

Finally, be prepared to participate in your own physical exam. Remember, the biggest limitation of telehealth – and the biggest risk for missing something important about your condition – is the clinician’s inability to examine you. So, they need your help.

It may be helpful to invest in a good scale, thermometer, and blood pressure monitor to conduct your own exam. If you are able, on the day of your visit, measure and document the following items. Have the values available with your notes.

  • Blood pressure
  • Heart rate
  • Temperature
  • Respiratory rate
  • Weight

NoteYou may be able to use your HSA or FSA for reimbursement on some of these items: thermometer, oximeter and blood pressure monitor. Check with your HSA or FSA provider to see what is covered.

Regarding clothing, you won’t be wearing a blue gown during your telehealth visit, but do wear clothing that will make it easy to do the necessary show and tell during the visit.

Your provider may ask you to point the camera to the area of concern. You should have your phone available in case they ask you to take a photo and send it to them so they can zoom in. Or, they may ask you to press on the area of your body that is painful (which is why you need to be hands-free). 

If possible, have a trusted person there to assist you if there’s something that you need help with while you’re on video.

SummaryMeasure and document your blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, respiratory rate and weight. Wear clothing that makes it easy to do the necessary show-and-tell with your doctor. Have your phone available to take a photo, and a trusted person available to assist you if need be.

4. Write Down Your Questions

Make a list of questions for the doctor in advance of your visit and be sure to prioritize them to make sure that your biggest concerns are addressed first. If all your questions are not answered, request a follow up telehealth visit with the provider or another member of the clinical team.

An easy way to keep track of health updates is through a CaringBridge site. The CaringBridge Journal feature allows you to record what’s happening and how you feel each day. The CaringBridge Planner can also be used to jog your memory on routines or schedules that may be helpful for your doctor to know. If you or a loved one could use a CaringBridge site, click the start a site button below.

Don’t go through your health journey alone.

You can stay connected to friends and family, plan and coordinate meals, and experience love from any distance.

All of this is ready for you when you start your personal CaringBridge site, which is completely free of charge, ad-free, private and secure. Don’t spend another minute alone!

Summary: Make a list of questions for your doctor in advance of your visit and prioritize your biggest concerns first. Request a follow up if your questions are not answered. A CaringBridge site is a great way to keep track of how you are feeling.

5. Make a Comfortable Space

A typical telehealth visit takes about 20 minutes. To make the most of this time, try to limit distractions where you can.

Use the bathroom beforehand and have a glass of water nearby so you don’t have to get up. Set up a space you feel relaxed in, with a comfortable seat and as much quiet as possible. You may find it helpful to use earbuds or headphones to minimize outside noise.

When to Be Seen Face-to-Face

So when should you be seen in-person rather than having a telehealth visit? This list is not complete, but you should be seen face-to-face if you believe you or a loved one are experiencing any of these:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Head injury/Trauma
  • Bleeding

Additionally, if you’ve given telehealth a chance and your symptoms are getting worse, it’s time for a traditional visit. If you do go to the clinic, use these safety precautions from Mayo Clinic to keep yourself and others safe.

Remember: telehealth visits are not a replacement for ALL visits. Dr. Georgiou shares a story that underscores the importance of advocating for proper healthcare:

“A dear friend called me: In last 3 weeks, his 91-year-old father was feeling dizzy, lightheaded and had fallen three times – and even had a gash in his head from one of those falls. While telehealth may have been reasonable step after the first fall… when his dad fell a 2nd and a 3rd time, he needed and deserved face-to-face care since his symptoms could be caused by more serious issues. None of those diagnoses could be made without a complete physical exam and blood tests. While we have traditionally counted on doctors to let us know when symptoms are worrisome enough that they should be evaluated in the Emergency Room, Urgent Care, or their office…. you may need to advocate for yourself – or your parent – to make sure the right care is delivered in the right place.”

Adjusting to Telehealth, Together

nurse with arms folded

Telehealth is a great vehicle for delivering medical care, as long as we keep in mind its limitations. Make the most of your visit by having the right technology, being prepared with the right medical information, and being equipped and comfortable to do part of the exam on yourself.

Dr. Georgiou reminds us that it’s natural to have this all feel a little awkward. You can take comfort knowing both doctor and patient are making this adjustment together.

Now we’d like to hear your feedback: what has been your experience with telehealth? Do you have any additional tips that would be helpful? Share in the comments below!

  • Claudia Pettis

    My husband & I are basically healthy. Our Primary Care Physician continues hands-on annual visits. Therefore, this information is extremely valuable to us. We can start a file with notes. Because, probably, it’s only a matter of time before we need the information you shared. Thank you.

  • V, Kennedy

    I have used the on line with my computer for DR. visits. I am 81 yrs old and like the convince. But if I want to see the doctor face to face my DR. office is good about that too. I thank you for the list on how to prepare for the visit, I found it very helpful. I did not have all the information before hand my first visit and it did make a difference. The helpful item that I did not do correctly, was keep track of WHEN, the symptoms start…I’m better about that now.

  • Ermina Graham

    I’m sorry I’m 87 an I’m not smart enough to do all you want I like face to face better.

  • Diana Macfarlane

    So far it has worked for me. The main problem has been timliness.

  • jackie

    It may be the “new” method to see a doctor; but I hate it – I much prefer face to face!

  • Annette

    I have been in the practice of recording my blood sugar, O2 sat with oximeter, temperature, weight, and blood pressure daily in a small pocket calendar since 2019. I go one step further to graph results of blood sugars and blood pressures which reveal patterns to me. I have taken pictures of these graphs for my Drs to see these patterns, invaluable .

  • Nancy J Kosch

    The connection was bad one time!!

  • Mflores

    It is important that one allocates ample time for a Telehealth appointment. If one works, depending on where he works, a one-hour (lunch time) period may not be enough. One has to anticipate delays from either technical difficulties (both sides) or having to wait longer in the virtual waiting room (because the doctor was late). It’s stressful. Lesson I learned: Take the day off or at least half of the day.

  • Cassie

    In response to Carol, HSA is Health Savings Account available to those with high deductible insurance policies, and FSA is Flexible Savings Account, which have to be offered by an employer.

  • Kd

    Dr. Georgiou’s advice is valuable. I hadn’t thought of using a visual app or checking my vitals prior to a telehealth appt. It’s disappointing that no one, from any of my doctors, prepared me for this type of “exam”,”yet we’re still charged the same for sub-standard care.

  • Rosi S

    Have had successful telehealth appointments. Happy this is available. It’s important to make sure the software ids up to date on whatever device you use. Otherwise, both you and provider may possibly be frustrated. Given the choice, I still prefer face to face visits.

  • Carol

    What are HSA and FSA?

  • Bret

    Someone here should acknowledge that this is really second-rate healthcare: if this becomes the new standard, the standard has slipped. Having said that, should one’s only option be a tele-visit, this article contained good information

  • John Koran III

    Thank you for the helpful information. I think this will be useful for many people with the nation’s COVID concerns still existing.

  • DIANA W THORSON

    Excellent information for people of all ages. Pediatrician visits for all ages are just as important as adults and aging populations. I printed it out for my family. Thank you.

  • Marian

    When my son visited from out of town, we were able to do a joint video-visit with my doctor, which my son appreciated as much as I did.

  • Barb Cooksey

    Very timely. I have a telehealth visit with my oncologist in two days. Will be prepared!

  • Jane DeBrock

    Very useful information especially written notes ahead of time so you can be clear. Thanks.

  • Virginia Todd

    Good avenue of communication if one is able to be as clear as they can. However, there is nothing better than a face-to-face visit.

  • Mark Southern

    A very good concise list of preps & steps to follow. Of particular value is the summary statement at the end of each step. Thanks CaringBridge.

  • Susan Bologna

    Thank you for taking the time to help us in this difficult time. Thankfully me and my husband are pretty healthy and havn’t had to use this service.This is all good to know and keep handy.