In healthcare settings, you rarely go an hour without hearing the new buzz word “telehealth.”  It has become such a commonplace saying that we rarely stop to think about what it means and what it looks like for a patient. Telehealth is an innovative way of delivering healthcare without requiring patients to be physically present at their primary care clinic. Telehealth has become a vital option because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many of The National Institute for Medical Assistant Advancement (NIMAA)’s healthcare partners have greatly increased their telehealth capacity, established telehealth services for the first time, or expanded the scope of which services they provide virtually.

 NIMAA has been diving deep into the world of telehealth by talking with our partner healthcare organizations about their experiences and revising our curriculum so that our medical assistant graduates leave the program prepared to deliver care in telehealth. Through this, we have learned not only is telehealth new for many providers—it is new for many patients! And with this new found experience, we have gathered valuable tips from the field that patients might find helpful as they navigate this new virtual healthcare system. Here are some to consider:

Requesting a Visit

  • Keep in mind that telehealth is not the best delivery of care for every type of visit, so discuss all options available to you when making your appointment, and don’t hesitate to ask why your provider is recommending an in-person or telehealth visit.
  • When making your appointment, be sure to share all of the reasons for your visit, so the care team can identify the correct visit type and prepare accordingly.

Preparing for the Visit

  • Ask for help.  The clinical team members preparing you for and interacting with you during the telehealth visit are there to support you.  Be vocal about any questions or concerns you have – whether they are about your care or about the telehealth process, and be sure you know how to get help if you have questions later on.
  • Prepare to navigate new technologies.  Every healthcare organization is delivering telehealth using varying systems. However, you can better prepare yourself for the visit by doing the following:
  • Figure out which device you will use for the visit. For example, a cell phone, tablet, or computer.
  • Make sure the device is fully charged.
  • Make sure your device is connected to cellular data or wifi.
  • You can expect your clinic to provide information about the system you will use for the visit and how to connect to it.
    • Print out or have available any guides that your health care provider has given you for reference.
    • If you are concerned about using new technology, consider asking friends and family to help you practice using it in advance of the visit.
  • You may be mailed equipment that will allow you to collect your own medical data (such as vitals, A1c levels, etc.) and securely transmit to your healthcare provider, so they can assess your health from afar. Your clinical team will provide training on any required equipment you will use prior to your appointment.  
  • Create a list of your questions and needs prior to the visit to use as a guide during your visit. People can get flustered and forget to ask specific questions during a visit. Having a pre-written list will help ensure that you get all of your questions answered.

During the Visit

  • Ensure you have quiet, private space to conduct the visit, so you and your care team can focus on the visit without distractions and so that you feel comfortable to share openly and honestly with your provider.
  • Go into the visit knowing that it will be different, but with an open mind. Most patients report being satisfied with their virtual visit.
  • Before the visit ends, confirm with your provider what your healthcare plan is, including whether any follow-up visits will be via telehealth or in-person.  It is a good idea to confirm what steps you need to take to improve your health prior to your next visit and what equipment or tools you will need to follow through with your plan.

Above all, remember that telehealth is new to everyone, including your healthcare providers.  Everyone is learning how to best conduct visits virtually, so if you have questions, ask them.  If the person you’re talking with can’t answer them, they can make sure someone else will. Give feedback to your care team about what you liked and what could have been better with the telehealth visit so they can continue to improve the process for you.