Change was a big part of life in 2020. As the world confronted the COVID-19 pandemic, changes had to be made to keep people safe and prevent the virus from spreading. Some of those changes will no doubt prove temporary, while others may have staying power.
An increased reliance on telemedicine is one notable change to take place during the pandemic that figures to stick around long after people have gotten rid of their masks. When in-person doctor visits became risky, many doctors increased their telemedicine offerings, allowing patients to call in and discuss issues or symptoms over the phone. In many instances, doctors can prescribe medications or recommend treatments without seeing patients in their offices, and patients may appreciate that convenience even after the pandemic has ended.
Some people may have been hesitant to embrace telemedicine, and reports during the pandemic’s early stages reflect that hesitation. Data from the National Cancer Institute indicates that screenings for breast cancer and colorectal cancer dropped by roughly 89 and 85 percent, respectively, in the first couple of months after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. Though cancer screenings typically must be conducted in person, the decline in screenings suggests patients were not speaking with their physicians during the early months of the pandemic. Had patients been more willing to speak with their physicians over the phone or via video conferencing apps like Zoom, the decline in cancer screenings likely would not have been so significant, as doctors would have emphasized the importance of screenings, even during a pandemic.
Telehealth appointments can be valuable for anyone, and patients can take steps to ensure their telemedicine sessions with their physicians are as productive as possible.
- Write down questions. Prior to an appointment, patients can write down any questions they have for their physicians. This helps ensure nothing is forgotten during the appointment. Writing down questions is especially important for telehealth appointments, as it can be easy to be distracted when calling in from home.
- Keep a health diary. A health diary can help patients point to symptoms or other persistent issues they’ve faced in the weeks or months leading up to their telehealth appointments. Jot down everything from the severity and frequency of symptoms to fluctuations in weight to any reactions to medications. No detail is too minor, as the more informed patients are the more fruitful their discussions with physicians can be.
- Photograph any extraordinary symptoms. Physical examinations are vital components of preventive health regimens, but many people have delayed or skipped annual physicals during the pandemic. If any unusual symptoms or issues like rashes arise, document them by taking photos and measure the size of any lumps. Any symptoms should be reported to a physician immediately, but documentation like photographs can ensure nothing is lost in translation during telehealth appointments.
Telemedicine figures to play a bigger role in health care in the years to come. Embracing strategies to make telehealth appointments more successful can help patients adapt to the changing health care landscape.