Telemedicine is a term used to describe all types of virtual healthcare, from phone conversations to video calls.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) have experienced changes to the way they receive care for their MS. For many, whether by choice or not, virtual appointments have taken the place of those you would have previously attended face-to-face.
Nearly half of people living with MS worry that virtual assessments are not as thorough as face-to-face appointments, so it’s not unusual if you feel unsettled when using this new method of communicating with your healthcare team. However, this ‘new normal’ is likely to be with us for quite some time and although a switch to telemedicine can be difficult for both you and your healthcare team, it shouldn’t mean that the standard of your MS care suffers.
To help you stay on track, remain in regular contact with your neurologist and MS nurse to ensure that your MS is still being monitored and prepare for your appointments to optimise the time you have with your healthcare team.
If the thought of change makes you apprehensive, try to remember that change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And with change comes opportunity. The vast majority of medical appointments before the pandemic were face-to-face. But now with a constantly growing level of experience in telemedicine, healthcare professionals have been finding ways of using it to their advantage and the advantage of their patients.
Take a look at some of the positives which come from virtual appointments:
You’re in your own home
Many people find that they are more relaxed when attending appointments from the comfort of their own home. Being in an environment you are happy in and familiar with can help to put you at ease and may give you a confidence you don’t usually have when you’re in a doctor’s office. This often enables you have more meaningful conversations with your neurologist or MS nurse, helping you to better get what you need from your appointments.
Stronger relationship with your neurologist
Telemedicine also offers you the opportunity to build a stronger relationship with your neurologist and MS nurse. They get to see or hear from you in your natural environment. This is incredibly beneficial for everyone involved. They can understand and get to know you better as a person and in turn, this should mean that you receive care that is better tailored to you and your priorities.
This will vary depending on the method of transport you normally use, but there’s the potential to save a lot of money without the need to travel to your appointments.
As well as the financial benefit of not needing to travel, virtual appointments can also save a huge amount of your time. With a smaller intrusion on your day, you will have more free time. The lack of travel required for a phone or video call will also relieve a significant burden if you experience problems with mobility.
“Telehealth has changed the relationship I have with my patients as I get to see them in their home. I get to see the cat or the dog that they love very much, perhaps someone who lives with them, maybe their favourite art or something that they’ve done. So in that way, it’s been amazing!” – Dr Riley Bove, consultant neurologist and MS specialist, United States
It can be overwhelming entering the world of telemedicine, particularly if you’re not so familiar with the technology involved, and you may be concerned that your MS won’t be monitored as effectively. But this doesn’t have to be the case! Preparation is key and there are many things you can do to make sure you are getting the most from your virtual appointments.
Firstly, you need to decide with your healthcare professional how you are going to be attending your appointment.
If you plan on talking via a video call, make sure you have the relevant programme set up in advance on your phone, tablet or computer – ask a friend or family member to help you out if you need support.
For appointments by phone, your neurologist or MS nurse will probably try calling a couple of times to get through. But you should make sure that your phone is not on silent to avoid missing their calls.
Monitor your symptoms
It can be difficult for your neurologist or MS nurse to track your progress remotely, so the more information you can give them, the better. Try using a spreadsheet on your computer or a tracker app on your smartphone or tablet to monitor your symptoms, or make a note of symptoms you wish to discuss to serve as a reminder when it comes to your next appointment. You could always ask friends or family for observations they have made about your symptoms that you can share with your healthcare team.
When it’s time for your appointment, try to eliminate any distractions that may interrupt your focus or cut into the time you have with your neurologist or MS nurse. Reducing the likelihood of being disturbed is important as it will help you to concentrate all your attention on your appointment. For example, you could move to a quiet room in the house where interruptions are kept to a minimum. If you have children, you might find that you benefit from asking your partner to keep them occupied.
You now know the benefits that telemedicine can bring to the table and how you can best prepare for your virtual appointments. Next, you should take a look at the tips and tricks below to help make your transition into telemedicine as easy and simple as possible. Don’t worry – you’ll be mastering the virtual appointment in no time!
Ask for support
Your neurologist and MS nurse will understand that the concept of telemedicine is new for a lot of people. Don’t hesitate to contact them if you’d like them to talk you through how telemedicine works and what to expect.
Remember, these appointments are all about you. Just because they aren’t face-to-face doesn’t mean you should now be afraid to offload how you truly feel. Leave your ego behind. Being honest and open is still key.
Why not create your own Talk to Your Doctor Guide to help plan what you’d like to discuss at your appointments and to keep the conversation on track.
Embrace the change
We understand that there are some needs that simply can’t be met through telemedicine and there are many reasons why some people may struggle with this virtual method of communication. But there’s so much that can be done just as effectively through remote appointments. It may be difficult at first, but try to embrace these changes. And if you’re struggling or feel that your standard of care has dropped, talk to your neurologist or MS nurse. They will be more than happy to help!