What is Telehealth and is it Right for Me?

In today’s world, technology is changing more quickly than ever. Just five years ago, ordering groceries through a mobile app and having them delivered to your front door was a novel thought. Today, technology is getting smarter each day. When it comes to health care, the same is true. New strides are made each day to bring patient-focused technology to doctor’s offices, urgent care centers and emergency rooms. Also known as telemedicine, telehealth is fast becoming a common way to see your doctor.

Telehealth visits are virtual office visits that let you video chat or remotely connect with your urologist or other health care providers in real-time from the comfort of your home. While many people started using telehealth this past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, urologist Kevin McVary, MD, has been using technology to interact with patients for years. Dr. McVary, Director for the Center for Male Health at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois, says up to eighty percent of first urology consultations don’t need an initial physical exam. That means his patients are able to conduct their appointments using a computer, tablet or smart phone.

“For so many urology appointments, the doctor and patient are talking about symptoms, the results of a blood test or X-ray, or how a medication is working, for example,” Dr. McVary said. “That can be done just as well through telehealth. It saves time and is so convenient. Patients can avoid driving, parking and sitting in a waiting room.”

Telehealth is also helpful for people who do not have access to certain specialists in their own town. They can have a consultation with a remote specialist without having to drive long distances.

In some cases, telehealth can speed up treatment, Dr. McVary explained. “Patients who come in for a diagnostic test used to have to wait until their next in-person meeting to talk over the results, which could be a week or two later. Now, they come in to have the test, and on their way out, they make a telehealth appointment for the next day,” he said. “If the patient needs to start a new medication, we can talk about it at that telehealth visit, and they can start the medication that day or the next.”

What to Expect

You can get ready for your visit by doing a technology check-up before you start your visit. Use a reliable device such as a smartphone, tablet, PC or laptop that allows for audio/video. Make sure you are able to connect to the internet and strive for a strong connection. Think about using headphones or earbuds to help with privacy and block out noise.

A telemedicine visit is much like an in-person office visit. You are given a scheduled meeting time, with a phone number or email link that will take you to an online check-in area. You will check in for your meeting by confirming your personal information, insurance, medications and allergies, just as you do with an in-person visit. Then you are placed in a virtual waiting room.

Once you’re connected with the doctor, you’ll talk about your health and the reason for your visit. Your doctor will have your patient chart in front of them. During the meeting, you can talk about your symptoms, your recovery progress and any concerns – just like you would during an in-person visit. And much like an in-person meeting, if you would like to have a friend or family member join you, they can.

At the end of your appointment, your urologist or provider may prescribe a medication or talk about next steps for your care. If the doctor wants you to have any follow-up tests, you will be told how to set them up. You may also get an after-visit summary through email or your patient portal.

Privacy is Still Valued with Telehealth Visits

Because your privacy is very important, telehealth meetings often take place in rooms designed for in-person appointments. “During telehealth appointments, I am always in a room by myself, with the door closed,” Dr. McVary said.

Your appointment is not recorded. The meeting is held on a secure network with the same privacy and security standards as the telehealth equipment you find in a hospital.

Telehealth Visits for Urology

Telehealth is well suited for sexual medicine or for issues such as erectile dysfunction (failure to get and maintain an erection), Dr.McVary said. “Most initial sexual medicine visits don’t need a physical exam,” he said. “We talk about symptoms and medical history, which can be done through telehealth.”

Many prostate-related visits also lend themselves to telehealth, Dr. McVary said. “If a man has a high PSA level, which may or may not be a sign of prostate cancer, we can talk via telehealth about what, if anything, we should do about it,” he said. “If someone is having urinary problems, we can talk about it via telehealth, and then I’ll order a diagnostic test to further address what’s going on.”

Dr. McVary also finds telehealth is very useful for pre-surgery appointments. “Explaining the surgery and answering questions is pure verbal education, which doesn’t need to be done in person. We used to give patients handouts before surgery, but now they go to a website to review the information, so I don’t have to hand them anything.”

When is an In-person Visit Best?

There are still times where an in-person visit is needed. For example, a man who has pain or notices a change in his testicle should be examined. Peyronie’s Disease, a condition that causes a bent or curved penis, also calls for a physical exam. If a woman has incontinence, a physical exam can help find out what is causing the problem.

Still, in many cases, after an in-person visit, a follow-up visit can be done through telehealth. “So often we evaluate how a patient is doing by talking about their symptoms, not through a physical exam,” Dr. McVary.

“Telehealth is providing exciting opportunities to expand access to health care,” Dr. McVary said. “There are many benefits that will last far beyond the pandemic.”

More Information

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UrologyHealth.org  |  SPRING 2021  |  UROLOGYHEALTH extra