Your Virtual Medical Appointment: What Do You Need To Know?

Diabetes at a distance: virtual consultation considerations

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Switching to a virtual medical appointment has been an important step in the fight against COVID-19, and an essential one for keeping both you and your healthcare professionals safe. Remote consultations aren’t new; you may have had the opportunity to consult with your healthcare professional remotely before – speaking to them on the telephone or emailing rather than making a trip to the surgery for example. But when you receive an appointment for a video consultation you may feel a little intimidated and confused asking yourself questions such as –

  • How will it work?
  • What equipment do I need?
  • How will the virtual consultation differ from a face-to-face one?

These questions are perfectly natural, you won’t be the only one feeling that way!

Though a video call might not come naturally to you, thinking ahead and ensuring you’re prepared may help you to feel more comfortable with the process.

Be prepared: in advance of the consultation

1. Equipment and Technical considerations

All you need for a virtual medical appointment is a computer (laptop or desktop), tablet or phone with built-in webcam and microphone (or separate webcam and microphone if they’re not built into your device), and an internet connection.

Most broadband connections and webcams are sufficient for video calls, but if you have time it’s always worth checking your technology works before your allocated appointment time.

Headphones, such as those supplied with a mobile phone, could be useful. Using them removes background noise, helping you to concentrate, and means that only you can hear what the healthcare professional is saying.

2. Thinking it through: what do I need from the consultation?

If communicating via a video call isn’t something you’re used to, as it isn’t for many people, there’s even more reason to think ahead and to ensure that you’re clear about:

What do I need to tell the healthcare professional? For example, do I have:
  • A new symptom? – what is it – how would you describe it? When did it start? How severe is it (on a scale of 1-10)? Have you had it before?
  • A change in symptoms? – when did the change occur? Has it happened before?
  • A concern about current medication? – why are you concerned? Are you experiencing side effects? How severe is it? Are you still taking the medication?
  • Questions about a new medication – is this right for me? How could it help?
What questions do I have? For example:
  • is this symptom to be expected?
  • are these treatment side effects normal?
  • should I continue to take my medication?
  • when should I see/contact you again?

Consider making a list of questions/points to discuss in advance, which you can refer to on the call. Your healthcare professional won’t expect you to do this, but they certainly won’t mind if you do; they want you to leave the consultation feeling that all your questions have been answered.

On the Day

1. Call location

Remember that your healthcare professional is there to do a job – they won’t be interested in the art on your walls or the tidiness of your house! However, it’s important to remember:

Camera angle

You can’t see what the healthcare professional is seeing as you will be looking at the healthcare professional; ensure that the camera is angled to your face, not your ceiling!

Noise level

Traffic outside if you live on a busy road, children playing etc – can’t be stopped. However, do try to find as quiet a spot as possible for the consultation, remove all unnecessary background noise (washing machines, TVs etc) and close windows and doors if necessary, to ensure that the healthcare professional can hear you clearly.

Lighting

Try to find a well-lit spot so the healthcare professional can see you.

Confidentiality

A virtual consultation will be treated like any other – your healthcare professional will have taken all necessary steps to ensure that all sensitive and/or confidential information is safeguarded from their side. However, as you’re not in a private consulting room, you will need to make sure that you’re happy with who in your vicinity might be able to hear the consultation. Consider the volume settings on your device if you need to.

Warn any adult family members that you have a consultation so that, if possible, they can allow you the space and quiet you need, and remove any pets from the room if they may be a distraction.

2. Timing

As with face-to-face consultations, your healthcare professional is likely to be running to a tight schedule. Ensure you’re ready for your consultation at least 5 minutes before it’s due to start, to ensure that you have maximum time with them.

3. The consultation process

Your healthcare professional may start by confirming who they’re speaking to and is likely to ask for a phone number in case you get cut off or experience technical difficulties. This may feel strange if it’s a healthcare professional you’ve had contact with before, but don’t be perturbed; this is just best practice on the healthcare professional’s part and is not a sign that they don’t remember you.

Once this has been done the healthcare professional should allow you uninterrupted time at the start of the consultation to talk to them about how they can help you. This is your opportunity to talk through all of the things you’ve considered in advance, so do make the most of this time to pass on as much information as possible. The more you tell the healthcare professional, the better they can help you. Try to speak as clearly as possible – and maintain eye contact with the healthcare professional if you can – they don’t want to
miss anything you say as it could be important.

The healthcare professional will probably have some questions for you at this point – try to answer them as openly and honestly as possible.

If your healthcare professional decides that it would be better for them to see you in person, they may end the consultation at this point and let you know how a face-to-face appointment can be arranged. Rest assured that this is no reflection on how you have handled the appointment – some matters simply can’t be dealt with remotely.

4. Keep calm and carry On(line)

No technology is faultless. If the screen freezes or you lose sound during the consultation, politely tell your healthcare professional and stay calm.

And if you completely lose connectivity, don’t panic – your healthcare professional will ensure that they contact you through alternative means. For that reason, it’s very important that you provide your healthcare professional with up to date contact information when they request this.

5. Follow up

Just as technology isn’t faultless, neither are you! If you remember another question – or something else you wish you’d mentioned – don’t keep it to yourself. If you’ve registered for AskMyGP you can follow up there, or simply call your surgery who will be able to pass the message on.

And remember…

If your healthcare professional thinks that a virtual consultation is appropriate, the consultation should achieve exactly what a face-to-face one would have done. They can enable you to stay on top of your health, whilst staying healthy at home. And if you have any questions or feel uncomfortable with any aspects of the consultation make sure you tell the healthcare professional straight away; ultimately, they want you to leave feeling informed and reassured.

COVID-19 has led to disruption in all of our lives, but seeking advice and support from your healthcare professional should not be an additional stress.