My Recent Virtual Rheumatology Appointment
Due to COVID-19, virtual appointments have become the norm in the medical world right now—particularly for those of us who have chronic conditions. I had my first virtual appointment with my rheumatologist earlier in May 2020 and wanted to write an article today about the appointment, sharing my experience and ensuring other community members that virtual appointments can be valuable, particularly during a global pandemic.
Hesistant about a virtual appointment
At first, I was admittedly reticent in agreeing to a telehealth appointment with my rheumatologist. I had a lot of questions that needed to be answered before attending.
Generally, I am someone who likes face-to-face interaction. I’ve found that that is the most effective way for me to transmit important information, and when dealing with my health — which is very important to me — I prefer physical interactions as opposed to virtual ones. And this particular appointment was no different, as I had a lot of ground I wanted to cover from experiencing more RA symptoms to potential side effects of being on Humira.
Are virtual appointments covered by my insurance?
One of the first questions I had about a virtual visit was the cost. Was my insurance going to cover a virtual visit and would it be billed as a regular visit?
Thankfully, I found out that my insurance was accepting telehealth appointments and waiving the copays for them, which helped alleviate some of my qualms. This did require contacting my insurance company prior to the appointment and asking them about their updated policies for telehealth appointments.
The benefit of virtual appointments during COVID
To further alleviate some of my fears about the appointment — and thereby, persuade me to consider a virtual visit — my rheumatologist reminded me that the risk of contracting COVID from physically coming into the office outweighed any personal preference, any potential bloodwork, and any physical exam that I might need (unless there was an emergency, of course). This reassured me, and I agreed to the telehealth appointment.
What is a telehealth visit like?
Even though I agreed to the appointment, I still had a few more questions, which really wrestled with the appointment itself. What is a virtual visit going to be like? Normally, my rheumatologist examines my joints and orders any necessary bloodwork — how would this take place in a virtual setting, where I’m at home communicating with my rheumatologist through my phone?
It was actually quite funny to be in the telehealth appointment because, in lieu of a physical examination, my rheumatologist asked me to show him my hands, to report on any stiffness and swelling, and to move my fingers to demonstrate joint movement. I’m not sure what information he gleaned from that, but it was interesting to see how the normal physical exam of my joints translated to this virtual exam.
An overall good telehealth experience
In all honesty, I actually enjoyed my virtual appointment more than I initially thought I would. When it was time for my appointment, I got a call from the nurse’s station at the office telling me that my rheumatologist was ready.
They then sent me a link to open on my phone, which routed me to an app I had downloaded the week prior for the appointment. The virtual format actually felt more like an in-person appointment than I thought it would: my doctor sat in a patient’s room and talked with me for a good 30 minutes or more.
Holding off on bloodwork for a later date
I was able to ask all my questions and express my concerns. Although he wanted to do bloodwork, he thought that it would be better to hold off until my next appointment in August to complete that—resolving my previous questions/concerns about that element of the telehealth visit.
Virtual appointments can be productive
Overall, I had a good experience with my virtual appointment. If you’re thinking about doing one and are hesitant, just know that you aren’t the only one and that they can be incredibly productive — particularly during this uniquely chaotic time!
On a scale of 1(low) to 5(high), how difficult is it for you to talk about having RA?