By Richard Smith / For The Herald
Snohomish County residents have been turning to virtual medical visits, also known as telemedicine, more than ever during the coronavirus pandemic.
While telemedicine companies have been around for years, the pandemic has led to a dramatic increase in virtual visits as primary care doctors, specialists and hospitals began offering the service as a way to help keep patients safe.
Now that most medical offices and hospitals are accepting patients for in-person visits and elective procedures, you may be wondering if you should go to your doctor’s office or stick to a virtual visit. Rest assured, your health care providers can help you decide what’s best as they work to ensure safe care for patients and staff. This includes changing the ways they deliver care like screening patients ahead of time to help determine if it’s best to go to a medical office or stay at home.
In-person visits: If it’s determined that an in-person visit is best for you, you’ll find that to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, many facilities are taking the following steps:
Screening arriving patients for Covid symptoms and providing a mask and hand hygiene supplies before entering the center.
Screening every employee, every shift and requiring them to wear masks at all times and appropriate personal protective equipment.
Treating suspected and symptomatic patients in designated areas only.
Promoting physical distancing with new clinic layouts.
Cleaning and disinfecting exam rooms between each patient visit, and regularly disinfecting high-traffic and high-touch areas.
Virtual visits: If you don’t require in-person attention, a virtual visit is still a good option. Many people are choosing virtual visits in non-emergency situations for routine follow-ups and non-life-threatening conditions. This option allows you to consult your doctor or other health care providers in your network via a secure video or phone appointment, all in the comfort of your home.
Before your telehealth visits:
Make a list of all the medications — prescription and over-the-counter — that you take and include the name, address and phone number of your pharmacy.
Write down details about your symptoms, concerns, pain and feelings.
Take digital photos of any injury, rash or other visible concern.
Have your insurance ID card available.
Use a phone, tablet or computer that’s connected to the internet. If you’ve never video-chatted before, consider a practice run with a friend or family member to familiarize yourself with the process and check the microphone and speakers. Headphones or ear buds can provide better sound quality and more privacy.
Have your home thermometer, bathroom scale, glucometer or blood-pressure monitor nearby.
Many area medical offices offer both virtual and in-person visits with extra precautions in place. In the Puget Sound region, Dr. Carroll Haymon and the full care teams at all Iora Primary Care medical offices are reaching out to patients to check on them and let them know that virtual visits with their doctors is an option. Iora has also introduced a tablet loaner program to ensure that all patients have the technology needed for a virtual visit.
Whether you choose a virtual or in-person visit, check with your health insurance provider to see if they’ve taken steps to help ease the burden during the health crisis. For example, Humana is waiving cost sharing (including copays, coinsurance and deductibles) for in-network primary care, outpatient behavioral health and virtual visits for our Medicare Advantage members for the remainder of the calendar year.
Getting the care you need is always important. Consider these options to stay safe and healthy. And remember, for life-threatening emergencies, such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, or suicidal thoughts, always call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
The bottom line; Don’t delay care because you are worried about contracting COVID-19.
Dr. Richard Smith is intermountain regional vice president for health services at Humana.