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Virtual Doctor’s Appointments: The New Norm?

Virtual Doctor’s Appointments: The New Norm?

Jun 10, 2020

Because the situation surrounding COVID-19 is constantly evolving, some information may not be up to date. Stay informed by following information from your local officials and by visiting the Texas Department of State Health Services website.

Virtual visits have helped keep patients connected to their doctors during the COVID-19 pandemic. But will they become mainstays as we flatten the curve and begin to reopen businesses across Texas?

We asked Dr. Angela Nunnery, a family medicine physician at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group in Kingwood, who holds a special interest in telemedicine, to share her thoughts with us.

Are virtual visits here to stay?

Dr. Nunnery: The answer is absolutely yes! As you know, virtual visits have been around for a number of years. Protecting our patients and staying safe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has escalated our need as physicians to treat patients virtually.

Will virtual visits replace in-person visits?

Dr. Nunnery: The answer is no. Virtual visits and in-person visits complement each other. For example, I enjoy meeting my patient for a first-time visit as a virtual visit. It is a great positive to meet a patient for the first time from the comfort of their own home. I find that it’s very personable that I can see my new patient face-to-face and concentrate completely on their past medical history and medication regimen in great detail.

We follow up with an in-person visit for a complete physical exam, and patients have been very happy with this experience.

What are the pros and cons of virtual doctor’s appointments?

Dr. Nunnery: The positives for the existence of virtual visits are:

  • From the physician’s side, availability. As physicians, we want to be available for patients. My availability for my patient is an essential part of my ability to provide quality care.
  • For the patient, convenience. As a patient, I can see my provider, physician, or advanced practice provider from the comfort of my own home or from the office on my lunch break, for example.

As far as the cons, like many other things that we’ve experienced during this pandemic, the personal touch is missing. The handshake or a hug that your physician gives you. That’s missing with a virtual visit.

Who should consider a virtual visit over an in-person visit?

Dr. Nunnery: Well, that’s quite an easy question. There are several types of patients that I’ve seen over time through virtual visits rather than in person:

  • The college student who can’t get home on the weekends and wants to see their physician who knows them already rather than the physician who may be new to the student’s health.
  • A busy working mom who is balancing care for kids — picking kids up from school and going back and forth between activities.
  • The person working away from home who can’t get off from work and drive to the doctor’s office during their lunch break.
  • The elderly patient who may prefer as a convenience to be seen in the comfort of their home with family members.

What kinds of conditions are ideal for virtual visits?

Dr. Nunnery: Uncomplicated conditions of allergies, rashes, the medical management of hypertension or diabetes, consultations for wellness services like smoking cessation and weight loss management. Some of the most common conditions that I treat virtually are anxiety and depression.

Why do you think patients with anxiety and depression prefer to be treated virtually?

Dr. Nunnery: Mental health conditions can be very sensitive topics. And patients feel more comfortable in the privacy of their own homes when sharing details regarding their mental health. I think that patients feel they are in a safe space to be able to share conditions that are troubling them.

So what conditions are not suitable for a virtual visit?

Dr. Nunnery: Well, in general, conditions that require me to use a stethoscope to listen to your heart or lungs or to use my hands to examine you; those are conditions that require an in-person visit. Some examples are:

  • If you are experiencing pain such as severe back pain or severe abdominal pain
  • If you have high fever or numbness
  • And, of course, conditions that could require an emergency room visit, such as chest pain or shortness of breath.

Do you anticipate another spike in COVID-19 cases?

Dr. Nunnery: Well, the short answer is that we don’t know 100%. However, what we do know is that we need to be prepared. I don’t know about you, but I grew up as a scout. And we were told to be prepared.

How can we prepare?

Dr. Nunnery: I think it’s fair to say that we were all caught off guard, and we were suddenly told that the city was being shut down. We were told that we had to be in our homes and self-isolate. We were told, basically, “This starts today.” That caused a big panic, and many patients were nervous and scared.

Now, we can look at lessons learned over the past 2 1/2 months. In our offices, we are welcoming patients. Our offices are very safe. Our staff is following the state and national guidelines for safety. And we are encouraging our patients to come into our office for necessary exams, laboratory testing, and radiology testing, such as mammography.

We are also scheduling our patients for follow-up visits in the fall, as both in-person or virtual visits, whichever the patients prefer. I think it’s important to note that COVID-19 is not the only medical condition that physicians are here to treat. Other medical health conditions still exist and still require diagnosis and treatment. We are available for our patients.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

Dr. Nunnery: Yes, I want to say that our team of physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants have been very excited to add telemedicine to our practices. We have enjoyed working together with our medical teams in providing care for our patients in their homes and offices. We’ve considered it an honor for our patients to welcome us into their homes. It is a privilege that we don’t take lightly. And I want to thank all of our patients for the opportunity to be able to care for them both in-person and virtually.

Learn more about scheduling a virtual visit with a doctor in your area: