a screen with a doctor and patient engaging in a virtual appointment

Preparing For Virtual Doctors Appointments

Monday night I got a robocall, reminding me of my Thursday appointment with my asthma specialist, informing me that the appointment would be by phone. I was relieved to hear this. I was none too keen about spending time in a waiting room, especially one known to be as cramped as the outpatient respiratory clinic during an afternoon appointment with a pandemic ongoing given I don’t even go to the store.

My previous phone appointments with my family doctor have been great, relatively timely, and have saved me a lot of travel time. However, I do find myself preparing a bit more thoroughly for phone appointments than I do for in-person ones.

How I prepare for smoother virtual doctor appointments

My preparation for virtual appointments is perhaps not too different from my regular appointments, but I try to be as organized as possible. I have only done phone appointments, not video calls. I feel that while I’ve been more than satisfied with my phone appointments, the lack of visual cues is sometimes a bit weird! For this reason, I think it’s even more important to write down any questions or thoughts you have, and have them and a pen nearby when you’re on the call.

  1. Check your prescriptions ahead of time and see what you need to be refilled. Make a note of this so you’re not caught off guard! This can also minimize trips to the pharmacy later, which is not only convenient, but especially important right now.
  2. Write down any notes about symptoms or concerns you have, or other questions for your doctor. Prioritize these in case you don’t have enough time to cover them all. And of course, be prepared for that regular “how often are you using your rescue inhaler” question - I can’t be the only one who forgets about that one, right?
  3. Figure out where you will do the appointment. We are all used to a degree of privacy during our doctor appointments that is potentially missing if we are doing them from home or the office right now. Plan ahead where you can do your appointment so that you feel safe—depending on your living or working situation you may wish to go outside, just ensure it is not noisy or windy or that you have shelter from the elements!
  4. Mentally prepare. Be aware of what a virtual appointment may feel, look, or sound like. Be ready to use the quiet moments when your doctor is making notes to review your own, rather than staring at the wall as you might do if you’re in their office!
  5. Contemplate visual cues. I’ve found my appointments to go very smoothly by phone, but the lack of visual cues can be weird at first! If you think this is going to be difficult for you, let your doctor know and how they can help you. For instance, they can let you know they are writing a note or checking your chart for something, so there is not dead air or “awkward” silence. However, if you’ve been spending a lot more time on phone meetings lately, it’s quite possible that you can “read” the quiet just fine!

Having another set of ears

If you normally have someone attend appointments with you, consider how they may factor in as well on a virtual appointment. On a video appointment, this will generally be fairly straightforward, but if you are doing a phone appointment, you may need to plan ahead for how to best do this. The easiest way would be if the doctor is calling a landline to have the person pick up another line.

It is often best to avoid speakerphone, as this can make it difficult for the doctor to hear you, and make any background noise louder—if you have a second person on the line, you can also ask them to mute their line to avoid other background noise or static.

Good vibes from phone appointments

I’ve had really good experiences with my phone appointments, and with another one—or possibly two!—coming in the next week, I hope my good experiences continue. I find that I want to have my appointments mapped out a little more than usual to ensure I don’t miss anything, but the transportation and waiting room time I save is well worth the lack of face-to-face interaction given I generally don’t need a lot of hands-on care.

How have your telemedicine or virtual appointment experiences been? What tips do you have for others?

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