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See the doctor without having to go see the doctor

See the doctor optThere’s a demographic group that’s even more susceptible to COVID-19 infection than elders, and that’s doctors and other health workers.

In Italy, where actual cases outnumber those reported by China, the Ministry of Health reports that at least 2,629 health care workers – roughly 8.3 percent of all cases in Italy – have contracted COVID-19 from working with inadequate equipment or being exposed to asymptomatic carriers. And sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, surrounded by people with symptoms, isn’t exactly a good example of social distancing. “When somebody has symptoms, they may be the last people who should go to a doctor’s office or emergency room,” says Dr. Andrew Diamond, chief medical officer of primary care provider One Medical. “They may be exposing other people – or themselves.”

That’s why a provision of the CHRONIC (Creating High-quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic) Care Act, which President Trump signed into law in 2018, is a potential lifesaver for the 19 million Americans enrolled in Medicare Advantage Plans. It includes telehealth doctor visits in Advantage Plan coverage, so patients can get answers and care advice from their doctors without exposing themselves to flu germs or traveling to the doctor’s office for a face-to-face visit.

And last week, the Trump administration loosened some federal rules to make it simpler for doctors to get paid for Medicare patients’ telehealth visits.

Apps like the CVS MinuteClinic serve telehealth patients for as little as $60 per visit, and the New England Journal of Medicine found that more than 50 major US health systems – including Jefferson Health, Mount Sinai and Cleveland Clinic – have telehealth programs.

Historically, only about 18 percent of Americans take advantage of telemedicine, but that’s rapidly changing.

Teledoc Health reports that video appointments were up 50 percent last week, with some 95 percent of cases completely resolved online. HMO Kaiser Permanente says that telehealth reduced in-person visits to specialists by 40 percent. And more and more providers and provider groups are adopting independent secure telehealth systems.

Telehealth apps are about as easy to use as Face Time or Duo (which, incidentally, don’t meet the HIPAA privacy requirements), but there are a few things you should do to make your virtual visit as productive as possible:

  1. Check your connection for at least 1.2Mbps download bandwidth. Use https://www.bandwidthplace.com/ for your phone or tablet, https://www.speedtest.net/ or https://www.speakeasy.net/ for laptops and desktops. And make sure to shut down your Skype or Face Time, which may be eating up some of the bandwidth.
  2. Check yourself. The very first part of a face-to-face visit is checking your vital signs. At the very least, you should use a thermometer to check your temperature, since fever is one of the early Coronavirus symptoms. If you wear an Apple Watch or similar device, write down your other vitals too.
  3. Check your audio and video. Many proprietary telehealth software packages include a way to test your video and audio beforehand. Or if your doctor uses a teleconferencing system such as VSee or Zoom, make sure you have it installed. Some systems have a pop-up box asking permission to use your video or audio; just click yes.
  4. Pick a quiet, private, well-lit area. In-person doctor visits take place in a quiet room with the door closed. So should virtual ones. Make sure you have a light source – like a lamp or window – directly in front of you. That way, when you see the doctor, the doctor can see you.
  5. Use headphones or ear buds. That way, you’ll be able to hear clearly – and nobody else will.
  6. Write down your problems and questions ahead of time. And have any relevant pictures or reports ready for uploading.

If you have any questions about coping with the Coronavirus outbreak, or your retirement years in general, please feel free to call or email us. Just as we always have, we’ll be happy to give you honest, objective answers.