Over the past four months or so I have had the opportunity to see healthcare during the COVID-19 era from the perspective of a patient. This has allowed me to personally feel how the changes we have made to keep providing patient care during a global pandemic have impacted our patients. This opportunity has allowed me the chance to see the good and the bad of telehealth and social distanced health care. To begin I want to start by saying all the health care providers I have worked with have been wonderful and are all phenomenal providers, and second this is only my perspective and is not meant as a fully encompassed view of the current state of health care.
I wanted to start by stating how weird it is to go into potentially life changing appointments while sitting at home and staring at a computer waiting for the doctor in the virtual waiting room. The setup just feels a bit odd, one minute you are sitting there drinking your morning coffee in your PJ pants and then all of a sudden you are in a deep virtual conversation with a provider about information that changes the trajectory of your day to day life. Before you know it the zoom, or google chat room closes and you are left sitting there trying to process the news in your living room. The good news is many doctors have understood this concept and are willing to sit in the virtual chat and discuss details for as long as you need, however the difficulty with this is that there is always an abrupt ending to the call and the patient is still left sitting there with their mind racing and the urge to google what they were just told. One thing I have found that has helped is that when a doctor gives life changing information many of them have allowed me the opportunity to schedule an in person visit after the virtual call to follow-up and do the physical examination.
Another area that has been interesting to see is that there seems to be no set appointment length with patients during this time. My experience has been that my virtual appointments last anywhere between 6-45 minutes. This has been an adjustment as a patient because many times you go into physical appointments and can expect to be seen for around 20-30 minutes. My best virtual appointments have been with the doctors that take the time that would normally have been filled with physical examination and discussed research and things to try at home and scheduling in person visits as necessary. My less effective virtual appointments were doctors just telling me physical lab results that have already been uploaded to my patient portal and ending the call with no clear conclusion. As many professionals try to navigate this new era of health care one area that can not be lost is bedside manners.
One area that I have enjoyed about being a patient in this time is that it has expanded the network of clinicians I can see. I was able to see my PCP back in Minnesota, while still going to school in New Mexico and then within the same week see a specialist down in New Mexico. This type of care has allowed for a wider variety and a larger network of providers to work together. It makes it feel almost like you have your own personal pick of providers as long as they are covered by your personal insurance. This makes getting second opinions easier and more efficient than before.
Telehealth has provided many challenges for providers to work through on their end, but one area that can not be forgotten is the patient’s experience. The struggle of having to log into a virtual chat to hear news that could alter an individual’s whole life and having that chat end leaving them sitting in their living room is unprecedented for many individuals. Having had the opportunity to live this reality has made me recognize the struggle our patients are going through. The lack of face to face interaction has taken a piece of the compassion out of a professional field that strives to provide our patients what they need during major life changes. This isn’t to bash on telehealth. I have actually thoroughly enjoyed being able to utilize telehealth as a patient, it is just to remind ourselves that our bedside manners are even more important when social distance creates barriers to the compassion that many of our patients need. Through our own continuing education and experiences I think telehealth can become an important piece of health care going forward.