scorecardHow to prepare for a virtual doctor's appointment in 4 ways
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How to prepare for a virtual doctor's appointment in 4 ways

Erin Heger   

How to prepare for a virtual doctor's appointment in 4 ways
LifeScience5 min read
  • To prepare for a telemedicine vist, you should take care of a few tasks ahead of time.
  • Make sure you check if your insurance covers telemedicine and that you know how to set up and use the technology for your virtual doctor's appointment.
  • You should find a quiet place to communicate with your doctor remotely, and come prepared to discuss symptoms and medical history, as well as any prescription medication you've taken or may need.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
  • Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.

Telemedicine allows you to receive virtual medical care, without needing to visit a doctor's office in person. Often, the best way to connect with your doctor is through a live video conference.

Virtual doctor's appointments are best for minor problems like nasal congestion, coughs, colds, or rashes, says Sheldon Elman, MD, chairman emeritus and founder of Medisys Health Group.

But telemedicine is well-suited for any medical issue where a physical examination might not be necessary. For example, live video conferencing can also be perfect for mental health consultations or therapy.

Here's what you need to know about setting up and preparing for a virtual doctor's appointment, so you can take care of your medical needs without leaving your home.

Figuring out payment and insurance

First, you should make sure that your health insurance covers the virtual doctor's appointment that you're hoping to schedule.

According to Mike Sevilla, MD a family practice physician based in Salem, Ohio, the cost of telemedicine can vary based on the type of appointment, your insurance plan, and state regulations where you live.

The best rule of thumb is to check with your insurance provider directly and ask about out-of-pocket costs associated with a telemedicine appointment.

If you are already an established patient with the doctor you are requesting the appointment with, payment may work in a similar way as with an in-person visit, but only your insurance company can tell you directly, Sevilla says.

While some insurance companies have been widely covering telemedicine for years, others aren't quite there yet.

"During this coronavirus pandemic, the government and insurance company rules have been relaxed and many virtual visits are being covered now," Sevilla says.

For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expanded telemedicine reimbursement. Prior to COVID-19, Medicare only covered virtual doctor's appointments for those in rural areas, but it's now available for all Medicare recipients.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has also created new guidelines around patient privacy, allowing for more flexibility in how health care providers use secure platforms to exchange patient information.

If your insurance company and state regulations allow your telemedicine appointment to be covered, it shouldn't be any more or less expensive than an in-person visit, Sevilla says. However, the exact cost depends on the reason you're seeking the appointment and whether or not you will then need to be seen in person.

Working with technology

Next, you'll have to set up your virtual appointment. This can usually be done in two ways:

  • Online. Some doctor's offices have online patient portals where you can access your medical records, correspond with staff, and request appointments.
  • Phone call. For other providers, you may need to call the office to specifically request a telemedicine appointment.

Once you've set up your virtual appointment, make sure that you'll have internet access and certain technology available at that time. For a video call, you should be able to use either a computer, tablet, or a smartphone.

Some virtual appointments can be accessed through a simple link, sent via text message or email, that will take you directly to a video conference. Others might require you to log onto the patient portal and follow a link within the portal to connect with your doctor.

If you're having trouble, you should try calling, texting, or emailing the staff at your doctor's office, who can guide you through the process and help you access your virtual appointment.

To have the best virtual appointment possible, you should:

  • Find a quiet environment with good lighting. Try to avoid noisy or dark areas of your house, as this will make it harder to see and hear each other. And make sure you're fully focused on the appointment and giving it all of your attention.
  • Use headphones or earbuds. This often provides for better audio, so you and your doctor will hear each other more clearly. It can also help protect privacy on both ends.
  • Be flexible and patient. It's likely that virtual appointments are new for you and your doctor, so work with each other to ensure a good experience. If the screen freezes or the audio lags, politely tell them and stay calm. If there's a disconnection, develop a plan for what you're going to do, such as who will call the other back.

Receiving care

You should prepare for your virtual appointment the same way you would an in-person appointment, says Sevilla.

If you are seeking medical care for a new illness or infection, be prepared to discuss:

  • The timeline of your symptoms
  • Your medical history
  • Any over-the-counter medications you have already tried

If your virtual appointment is part of a routine visit, like checking in with a specialist you see every few months, your doctor might have you take some of your vital signs at home, like your temperature, blood pressure, or weight and discuss that information during your appointment.

This would require you to have access to devices like a thermometer or blood pressure cuff. If you don't have access to these, don't worry — you can discuss other options with your doctor.

Virtual appointments can be an effective way to treat medical conditions, but some patients worry the exchange won't be as personal, or they won't receive the same level of care they would at the office, Sevilla says.

Identifying the most important topics you'd like to address before getting on the phone or video chat with your doctor can help you get the most out of the experience. Try to speak clearly, make eye contact, and keep your questions and concerns direct and straightforward.

"Trying to get to the point right at the start of the telemedicine visit will make things smoother," Sevilla says.

If you request a virtual appointment for something that may require a physical exam, like abdominal pain or shortness of breath, your doctor may suggest that you also come in for an in-person visit.

Getting prescriptions

For the most part, doctors should be able to order the same medications, testing, or therapies they typically would during an in-person visit, Sevilla says. With telemedicine, you'll likely be able to get a prescription online.

The only exception might be controlled substances like pain medications that are subject to state and federal rules that may prohibit doctors from prescribing them electronically.

"Electronic prescribing is pretty much available everywhere and doctors can electronically prescribe medication right to the patient's pharmacy," Sevilla says. In some cases, the medication can even be delivered to your home.

Whether or not you can receive your medication through the mail will depend on your pharmacy and insurance. You can check with your pharmacy directly to find out if home delivery is available to you.

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