Telemedicine may seem to be a new trend, but in actuality, the idea has been around for quite a long time. According to the National Institutes of Health, as long ago as 1879, an article in the independent medical journal the Lancet discussed using the telephone to reduce unnecessary office visits. In the years since then, there have been various pushes to use telemedicine for home-based healthcare.
However, for many of us, the possibility and practical use of telemedicine came to the forefront in the midst of the current pandemic. As we all moved our lives online, learning to video conference for interactions from work meetings, to gatherings with friends and family members, suddenly the thought of visiting our health care providers online began to feel much more natural.
Our Vectra Ambassadors were no exception. We asked them about their experiences and found they had a range of experiences.
“I’ve had my first two appointments via teleconference since the pandemic began, and they were both great! Short, sweet, and I think I prefer it this way! I hope this will be an option in the future. It would make my life a lot easier!” shared Beth, a busy principal who recently transitioned her entire school to online learning while parenting three children of her own.
Vectra Ambassador Jim was, in some ways, a telehealth “pro,” having used it a couple of times prior to the pandemic for general health concerns. “The first time, I was really surprised by how well it worked using video conference. I gave the doctors my symptoms and temperature reading. The doctor actually looked at my throat through the phone to determine whether or not I needed a strep culture before sending a prescription to my local pharmacy. This happened on a weekend, and the online visit was much less expensive compared to an ER or urgent care visit.”
Jim continued, “My healthcare providers are based at the Cleveland Clinic, and they have all of my records for all of my doctors in one app called MyChart. I use MyChart both for telemedicine appointments and a range of other interactions, including getting my prescriptions refilled, to voicing concerns that come up between appointments, such as when I recently asked about a shingles vaccination. The doctors and nurses have been very responsive, and it’s more convenient than having to leave messages or go through a receptionist.”
“Since the pandemic began, I’ve also begun working with my talk therapist online, and I’m currently scheduled to see my rheumatologist in June via telemedicine. I’m expecting she will order my Vectra test and other blood work to be done at a local lab, similar to my previous general medicine experiences, and that she will look at my joints via phone, just like they did with my sore throat. I’m very positive about telemedicine and glad to have it as an option—especially during the time of COVID-19 when you don’t know what the person sitting next to you in the doctor’s waiting room might be carrying. As an RA patient with a compromised immune system, this is a really valuable option.”
Vectra Ambassador Stephanie had her first experience as a telemedicine patient as a result of the pandemic, and she attended her first appointment with less-than-high expectations. “Over the years, I’ve had so many disappointing moments in which medical professionals were skeptical of my arthritis because of my young age, and I was expecting to have to explain all of that when I used telemedicine for a general health concern. To my surprise, I had a fantastic experience. I entered my symptoms and health conditions, and my profile was immediately linked to my medical records at my local hospital. The doctors listened well and were very professional. It was quick, but thorough.”
Stephanie also had a rheumatology appointment through telemedicine—the old-fashioned sort, which took place over the phone without video. “Unfortunately, my doctor’s video system crashed right before my appointment, so we spoke by phone rather than rescheduling. This appointment also was a good experience. My doctor told me which joints to check and asked which were bothering me. I wasn’t due for my Vectra test, and since my other labs had been strong at my previous visit, we decided to skip them this time.”
“For me what really made the rheumatology appointment work was the relationship I had with my doctor in advance of that visit, which I believe is a result of the many in-person visits we’ve had through the years. We work as a team, and my doctor pushes me when I’m tempted to remain on a treatment that isn’t controlling my RA well to avoid the hassles of switching therapies. Before the pandemic, I had a situation in which I was writing off RA-related pain because it was occurring in an area I didn’t realize I had joints! I was convinced the pain was from overexertion, and if it wasn’t for my doctor pressing on the affected joint, I would have never known the pain was from RA.”
“Although I had great experiences and absolutely love the convenience of telehealth—especially the time saved by being home instead of in a waiting room—I think a hybrid model might be a better way to think about the future. I believe there is a wonderful place for telehealth, but I believe there are few replacements for the in-person visits that allow my doctor to evaluate my body language, feel my affected joints, and hug me when I’m feeling defeated from fighting RA for so many years.”
As the pandemic continues, it’s likely that some of our other Vectra Ambassadors—and maybe you—will have more appointments through telemedicine. As we continue to adapt to this situation, we’ll learn new ways of doing things, some of which will be temporary and some that we will carry with us into the future, creating a new “normal.” As the pandemic continues, keep watch for new posts on the VectraVoice blog featuring our Vectra Ambassadors and how they are experiencing this crisis.