Let’s hope telehealth sticks around once things return to “normal.”
I can attest, from my personal experiences during the pandemic, that Jen Miller’s article on telehealth is 100-percent accurate. My iPhone kept my 92-year-old mother from making repeated visits to the doctor’s office while sorting out a high blood pressure problem last fall.
It took a couple of calls for Mom to feel comfortable with the format. The nurse practitioner looked tiny on the screen and was hard for her to understand, even with the speakerphone cranked up all the way. At weekly calls we’d report the blood pressures we took at home using a digital sphygmomanometer. The NP prescribed new medications and followed up every week to check on their efficacy and side effects. When one caused Mom’s legs to swell rapidly, I scanned her ankles with the phone’s camera to show how distended they were.
Video calls did give her provider insight into my mom’s home life. “Look at that big family!” the NP said during one call, seeing the photo of my five siblings and me over Mom’s shoulder. Most calls would end with a discussion between the nurse and me, recapping the changes to dosing and plans for in-home blood draws. She, I’m sure, was reassured that someone would follow through on what Mom may not have understood, heard, or remembered.
We ran into the potential hurdles, too. “What would I do without you?” my mom said at the end of one call. Indeed, what would she have done without someone with a smartphone to facilitate the calls? Weekly visits to a doctor’s office at her age are not only exhausting, but risky. That’s one reason I hope insurers will still cover telehealth post-pandemic.
There came a point when we decided Mom’s problems needed an in-person visit for an echocardiogram and physical exam. When the NP suggested it, she intuited my mom’s fear of visiting the office. “We take every precaution here,” she reassured us. “We will keep you safe.”
And they did. The imaging and hands-on exam by her cardiologist allayed our fears in a way that a phone call just couldn’t do. But, it turns out, the telehealth monitoring had worked—perfect blood pressures, medications at therapeutic levels, heart failure averted. All from Mom’s rocking chair.