This week I had my first ever telehealth experience. It went pretty much as expected, and in some ways was a very typical patient experience. That was mostly because I logged in at my appointed time and waited alone in a cold and empty room for over half an hour before my doctor came in. I probably should have stripped to my shorts and sat on the edge of a hard table just to make it like the real deal.

I suppose I should start from the beginning. 

I have had an annual physical scheduled for some time. In fact, my annual physical has been on and off the books, rescheduled multiple times, since the last time I saw my doctor over two years ago. I am one of those people who firmly believe in preventative health, in as much as I try to prevent seeing anyone related to the health field as much as humanly possible. Therefore, I am very good at getting my annual physical performed about every five years or so.

I’ve written of this tendency to delay and deny before. In 2013 I wrote:

I am, in at least one way, a “typical guy”. I rarely go to a doctor. I came down with Vertigo last February, and although largely recovered, it did lead to a doctor’s visit, where he pointed out it had been more than 5 years since my last physical. At that prior physical, he had suggested, since I was just 47, that we could skip “the finger”, and we would get to it “next time”.

And he wondered why I hadn’t been back in 5 years. Silly doctor. There wasn’t going to be a next time.

Later that same year I wrote of said physical:

The results of my first ever prostate exam (a ridiculous exercise where the doctor fumbles around as if he were looking for his car keys while saying, “Really? First one? This is your first ever?”), were fine. He told me that my prostate felt “small”, although my colonoscopy a few weeks later would countermand that slightly.

So, this year’s scheduled physical, which was supposed to happen last year, has been rescheduled several times because of travel demands and other reasons, not the least of which was my continually neglecting to get my lab work done on time. 

Now, I found my most recently scheduled physical to be in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. I called the doctor’s office a couple weeks back to inquire about this. They told me, somewhat to my surprise, that they were still conducting routine business, and assured me that they “sanitized the offices every night and weren’t seeing any patients exhibiting flu like symptoms.”

So, essentially, my doctor isn’t seeing sick people. I can’t put my finger on it, but there is something wrong with that picture.

My concern, however, wasn’t the safety of the doctor’s office. My real concern was, oddly once again, the lab work I would be required to have. That lab would likely be filled with sick people being tested for God knows what, and as I have written previously in “When Dracula Has a Bad Day at Work,” the lab my insurer makes me go to isn’t exactly the nicest place in the world.  

With my concerns fully on the table, they agreed to convert the appointment to a telehealth visit, so I could discuss my blood pressure, which despite medication has been running a bit high. They told me I would get a link via email, and the day of the appointment they would call me about 15 minutes prior to the scheduled time to “go over my information,” which I assumed was code for “get your credit card number.” After my “information had been reviewed” they would instruct me to log in using the link provided.

The day of the appointment I waited for the call. It did not come as promised. At the scheduled time I decided to log into the room despite a potential breach of protocol. I was the only person in the room when I logged in. After about 3 or 4 minutes, the phone rang. The person whose job it was to go over my information took my credit card info and told me a nurse would call in a few minutes. Several minutes later, the nurse called me. I told her the reasons for the call, reviewing my recent blood pressure and pulse readings, and gave her my current weight. She entered it all in the computer system so that my doctor could ignore it and make me go over the same information again when he finally “entered the room.”

She confirmed that I had logged into the room and told me the doctor would be with me shortly. 

Apparently shortly is 25 minutes. That is how long I continued to stare at the blank screen waiting for my doctor. Once he entered, the session was pretty straightforward. I told him the reasons for the call, reviewing my recent blood pressure and pulse readings, and gave him my current weight. He did not employ a camera, only using audio which surprised me a bit. I assume that allows him to make faces and funny gestures when I am talking to him. I suppose that is one benefit of telemedicine for professionals. 

This virtual check-up was fine overall, however checking my prostate was a bit awkward. Now that I think about it, no more awkward than having my doctor check it. My doctor reviewed the one result he had, from a Cologuard test I had completed over a year ago when my physical was first supposed to happen (Cologuard is an alternative “poop in a box” test to having a full colonoscopy. For me the test experience produced an hysterical story that would have you rolling on the floor; but my wife won’t let me write about it). Those results were good. I still have my lab orders to complete, and the heartless bastard insisted I schedule another physical in three months, presumably after my less than desirable lab isn’t full of potential Coronavirus patients. 

All jesting aside, my first telehealth experience was not a bad one. I accomplished the needed tasks fairly quickly without ever having to leave my house. There is clearly a future in telemedicine, and thanks to COVID-19, that future is now. In fact, this entire COVID episode may have dramatic impacts far beyond what we anticipate. The ability for thousands of companies to adapt to virtual offices on the fly may mean a quantum shift in permanent office situations is on the horizon.

Now if we could just create a virtual lab experience, we would really have something.

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