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5 Most Frequently Asked Questions About Virtual Doctor Visits

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A bad cough, itchy eyes, trouble sleeping…we all experience these issues every now and then. Our first instinct? A trip to the doctor’s office. With the COVID-19 pandemic still a threat, though, and a phased reopening in place, not all patients are able to meet with their healthcare specialists in person. The good news is, they don’t have to thanks to major advancements in virtual care, also known as telehealth.

Doctors at Massachusetts Eye and Ear say that virtual visits are allowing them to see patients and diagnose common issues, along with enabling patients to receive care in a more accessible and convenient setting.

Dr. Amy Watts

“The feedback we’ve been getting from patients has been extraordinary,” said Amy C. Watts, OD, director of the Optometry and Contact Lens Service at Mass. Eye and Ear. “They’re so grateful to be able to do these visits out of their home and not have to travel.”

Not sure if virtual doctor visits are right for you? We asked the experts at Mass. Eye and Ear to answer five common questions they get from patients. Here’s what they said.

What is a virtual visit?

A virtual visit is a medical service between a patient and that person’s healthcare specialist done by telephone or video chat while the patient remains at home.Conducted in real-time, virtual visits allow specialists to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients. Calls are private, confidential, and never recorded.

konowitz-paul mass eye and ear

Dr. Paul Konowitz

“The goal of virtual visits is to deliver quality care just like an in-person appointment from the convenience and safety of your home,” said Paul M. Konowitz, MD, division chief of the Ear, Nose, and Throat Suburban Centers and ENT specialist, who is seeing patients for virtual visits.

What are the benefits of a virtual visit?

Virtual visits make healthcare more readily accessible for patients, particularly those who don’t live near a doctor’s office. By using this service, patients have the ability to schedule appointments at a time that’s convenient for them and in a setting where they feel most comfortable. It also allows patients to avoid time spent commuting and in a waiting/exam room.

“The great thing about virtual visits is we’re able to spend quality time with the patient,” said Dr. Konowitz. “Sometimes the act of just talking about a concern by phone or video can make someone feel better.”

family doctor video call

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What equipment do I need?

The only technology required for virtual visits is a telephone, tablet, or computer. In advance of a video appointment, it will be important to check that your device has speakers, a microphone, and built-in camera or webcam. Many healthcare specialists, including those at Mass. Eye and Ear, use Zoom video conferencing software. Be sure to download Zoom prior to your appointment via the Apple Store, Google Play, or directly from the Zoom website.

At Mass. Eye and Ear, patients can schedule a video visit through Patient Gateway, a secure website that provides patients with the ability to communicate with their doctor, upload a photo for review, see test results, view upcoming appointments, etc. The Patient Gateway app is also available for download.

Dr. Watts and Dr. Konowitz also suggest prepping for virtual doctor visits by:

  • Staying near your phone. If you miss the first call, the office will likely call again.
  • Having a pen and paper ready to jot down any notes.
  • Taking a few pictures of any physical symptoms such as rashes, redness or swelling to send to your doctor.
  • Writing down the name and location of your pharmacy to make it easier for your doctor to e-prescribe your medication.
telehealth mass eye and ear

Photo Credit: Getty Images

What conditions can be treated via virtual visit?

With only a few exceptions, Dr. Konowitz says that just about every condition he’s seen can be first dealt with in a virtual visit. Dr. Watts and Dr. Konowitz say that many common problems like eye allergies and sore throat can be treated 100% virtually, saving the patient and the doctor a lot of time.

Will my insurance cover virtual visits?

Dr. Watts notes that during the COVID-19 pandemic many insurance companies are covering virtual visits. She urges patients to check with their insurance provider to find out what is covered and any copays that may apply.

To find out if you qualify for a virtual appointment, please contact your doctor’s office directly. Currently at Mass. Eye and Ear, all services and specialties are offering virtual appointments for new and established patients. For more information, visit MassEyeAndEar.org/virtual-visits.