How to Make the Most of Your Telemedicine Appointment


Get comfortable with the technology you’ll be using, and have relevant medical devices and logs at hand

April 9, 2020; By Suzanne Oliver

The coronavirus crisis has rushed the transition to telemedicine, and many health-care providers say there is no going back. They are finding that televisits can be more efficient than in-office visits for many types of medical issues, from postsurgical patients worried about infected incisions to rural physical-therapy patients who lack access to outpatient clinics.

“It is going to change the way we practice medicine,” says Jeffrey Geller, chief of orthopedic surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital and chief of the division of hip and hip knee reconstruction at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.


Fred Feuerbach, a cardiologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, monitors patients’ phone calls and does FaceTime visits. PHOTO: JEHAD NGA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

So what can patients expect from a telemedicine visit, and how should they prepare?

First, call your doctor’s office to find out whether telemedicine visits are available and whether you will need to set up an account or install special software on your computer, phone or tablet. It is best to do this before an emergency occurs, says Matthew Levy, associate professor of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Until recently, doctors were required to conduct telehealth visits through platforms such as or MyChart that were compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. But some of those requirements have been relaxed in the current crisis, so many providers are using popular apps such as FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp and Zoom to conduct visits.

Ask your doctor or insurer about your out-of-pocket costs. Right now Medicare and Medicaid are covering the full cost of virtual visits with many types of providers, and many private insurers are following suit. Your insurer also may cover telemedicine service through websites such as

Once you know what technology you will be using, get familiar with it. You don’t want to spend the first 10 minutes of your visit trying to figure out how to unmute the audio.

Take the time to clarify the purpose of the televisit before it begins. “Prioritize two or three important points to discuss and know what medicines you are taking,” says Olveen Carrasquillo, professor of medicine and public health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Have relevant medical devices and logs on hand, such as a penlight or smartphone flashlight for viewing a sore throat, a blood-pressure cuff for a heart patient, a thermometer for infection, blood-sugar logs for a diabetic patient or a food log for those with gastrointestinal symptoms.

Wear loose clothing that will allow you to show your medical provider what is concerning you. In the case of a pediatrician’s visit, a parent may need to help with the medical evaluation.

“We may have them shine a flashlight down their child’s throat, lift up the child’s shirt so we can watch the breathing, show us a diaper so we can look at the stool, or press on a child’s abdomen for tenderness suggesting appendicitis,” says Bruce Sacks, a pediatrician in New York.

The length of the appointment may depend on the problem. A visit regarding sinus congestion or a tick bite could be very quick, while others, such as a physical-therapy appointment, may last as long as a session at a clinic. Waiting rooms are sometimes replaced by virtual waiting rooms.

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