The Benefits of Telehealth as an Option - One Year Later
In March 2020, the world as we knew it stopped in the United States due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As a chronic illness patient (living with rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, insomnia, and migraines), I worried incessantly about a few things.
My COVID-19 related concerns
Was I at a higher risk of getting COVID-19 due to my conditions or the medications I took to manage those conditions?
Also, how would I see my doctors for routine care if leaving my house was considered a risk and all “non-essential” appointments were postponed?
The first question was a challenge to get a straight answer to, and I’m not going to go into what I learned here for several reasons.
But, I’d like to share the answers to the other questions because I think you might find them helpful.
From phone calls to video chats
Within about a month of widespread shutdowns, most of my care providers began offering phone call sessions for both routine and immediate care, which transitioned over time to video chat whenever possible.
Telehealth for different specialists
Routine telehealth appointments, now, are something I prefer and am extremely grateful for.
As an RA patient who struggles with other autoimmune disorders, I regularly see a rheumatologist, a gastroenterologist, a neurologist, a primary care physician, a therapist, a psychiatrist, and an infusion nurse.
And, for the last 13 months, I’ve been able to do all of those via telehealth except the last one.
A telehealth visit with my rheumatologist
I see my rheumatologist every 3 months when things are good. During our telehealth appointment, she asks for an update since our last visit, she asks what my current questions are, what complaints I have, and what, if anything, is currently bothering me more than usual.
She then asks me to complete several motions with my hands, arms, legs, knees and feet, so that she can view my movement. We do a zoom-in on the joints that are “hotspots” for pain in my body - mainly my knees, ankles, and toes - allowing her to view any swelling, discoloration, rashes, or visual differences from our last visit.
We talk about my medication - what is working, if anything isn’t, and if I need refills, and we set a date for our next check-in.
Benefits of telehealth
My regular appointments with my other specialists are very similar. We check in on the big things, and then there’s time for questions and concerns.
The most advantageous things for me about telehealth appointments are:
My current providers are about a 60-75 minute drive each way from my house, forcing me to spend close to 3 hours in the car for any in-person appointment.
My body gets achy from sitting still that long, and my patience gets frustrated too.
I can conserve physical strength and energy
AKA there’s no extra walking, stair climbing, or logistics managing. My rheumatologist's office is quite a bit away from the parking garage which, to note, also requires a 12 dollar fee (after validation).
So, not having to walk, pay for parking, move around, pack a bag with snacks, etc, feels like a huge win.
There are no sideways glances in the waiting room
You know what I’m talking about. I am 34 years old, and I always felt judged in the rheumatologist's waiting room as I’m one of the youngest ones there. I do not miss the extra looks and obvious questions in people's minds.
My doctor appears more relaxed in their home or office
And honestly, it feels like I receive better and less rushed focus from them. Now, there's also been a difference in my emergency or flare-based care as well.
If you've seen your rheumatologist, primary care physician, or other care providers via telehealth this year, have you found it advantageous?
As the world resumes some of its normal activities, will you choose to keep many of your appointments via telehealth? I know I sure will.
Does your RA impact you financially?