Telehealth has been slowly making it's way into society over the past couple of years. However, amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that is reaking havoc across the world, it has become a necessity. Doctors and medical centers across the United States have begun to depend on telehealth in an effort to keep patients and medical professional safe from infection. Due to how contagious and deadly this virus is, everyone is being encouraged, and in many cases, ordered to remain at home and "social distance" themselves from others. However, other health issues and concerns, whether physical or mental, do not disappear. Therefore, telehealth is emerging as an essential way for people to receive medical attention over the phone or via live video interactions, without having to further risk acquiring or transmitting the virus.
Living with chronic illness is challenging. Open communication and dependable relationships with my doctors is important to me. When COVID-19 began it's negative impact on the United States a lot of things began to change. As cases started appearing in NC, all of my medical appointments were rescheduled out of fear and uncertainty over what to expect with the virus contagion amongst our communities. As weeks progressed, the serious threat of the virus didn't leave, in fact it increased quickly. Telehealth began emerging.
I see a clinical health psychologist a couple times a month to help me with the impact that Chronic Illness has on my life and to help me navigate the emotions and stressors that coincide. Missing or rescheduling an appointment occasionally is acceptable and manageable. But life doesn't stop, my emotions and thoughts continue, and the maintenance of my mental health is important. Unfortunately, the virus is not going anywhere anytime soon. I have no idea when it will be safe enough to visit my doctors face to face.
Yesterday, I agreed to attempt a therapy session over the phone. Prior to the appointment, I was extremely anxious, though not really sure why. I was literally afraid. My head was spinning, my eyes were teary, and my chest heavy as I awaited the phone call. For the life of me, I don't know why my body was responding this way, especially being that it was just a phone call and with someone that I know and trust. Maybe it was because I was at home, with family members in the other room. Maybe I didn't feel as "safe" enough to talk openly and privately because others may hear my thoughts and feelings. Maybe it's because I couldn't walk to my usual room and then leave after the appointment was over. Maybe it's because I didn't trust myself to open up enough, feared awkward silences or inability to talk my through the session. Maybe it was the increased possibility of distractions around me in my home. Maybe it's because I know that body language speaks louder than words sometimes, and talking on the phone takes away that aspect. Maybe it was just simply because it was new and different. Likely it was a combination of all.
Regardless, I knew that I needed to try. And though it wasn't perfect, it worked out alright. Yes, I was nervous when answering the phone. I did feel awkward, especially to begin with, but that's ok. I was able to open up, though did find myself hesitating and trying to hold back thoughts at times. All in all, it was still a worthwhile appointment and I'm glad that I gave it a chance. I expect that I will be having more phone appointments like this, possibly with my medical doctors as well, in the upcoming weeks or months, at least until the chaos of the virus calms down. Hopefully, I'll be returning to my "normal" face to face appointments afterwards.
Everyone has their own personal opinions about telehealth. Like everything in life, it's not perfect. I understand the need for it at the moment, I can admit that it is beneficial in various situations, but I also recognize instances where it is not ideal and may hinder the doctor-patient connection. Personally, I still prefer face to face appointments, but I can see the benefits of telehealth in some circumstances and how it may actually become preferred or more convenient to some. Whether by phone or video, I believe that telehealth will have a prominent place in the future of medicine and am thankful that it is available in times like today.
Edited on May 24, 2020 to add......
I have now had 4 phone appointments with my psychologist and a virtual video appointment with my GI. All of these "remote" appointments are a result of social distancing and new medical protocols due to the Covid pandemic and stay at home guidelines. My thoughts have improved regarding telehealth since my first appointment. I still feel a little awkward for the first few minutes of these appointments, however, being that the appointments are with doctors that I trust and am comfortable with, the appointments are efficient. (It may also help that my mental health and frame of mind have been pretty good through all of this and my medical symptoms, while still problematic have been tolerable for the most part. If I were having a very difficult time physically or emotionally, I believe in person would be better, as visual cues and physical assessment may be more necessary. But, routine follow-ups when issues are not too problematic, telehealth is proficient.
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