As the COVID-19 pandemic wages on, many have had to change the way they accomplish daily tasks. From grocery shopping to attending meetings to eating at restaurants, the pandemic has elevated the importance of online communication and connectivity to new heights. Even appointments with our doctors have shifted to an online environment, and “telemedicine” has become a familiar word and a welcome alternative to an in-person office visit.
Early in the pandemic, Baptist Health’s team of primary care physicians used telemedicine to evaluate patients’ symptoms for COVID-19. Now, as more people have begun again to seek doctors’ advice about other illnesses, managing chronic diseases and resuming well visits, Baptist Health Primary Care doctors offer telemedicine visits, when appropriate, along with in-person office appointments.
Coren Menendez, M.D., a family medicine physician with Kendall Breeze, part of Baptist Health Primary Care, answers the most common questions about how telemedicine appointments work.
How do I make a telemedicine appointment with Baptist Health Primary Care?
Dr. Menendez says it’s as easy as calling one of the Baptist Health Primary Care offices, located conveniently throughout South Florida.
“My current patients, or patients who want an appointment with me, simply call my office to schedule an appointment,” she said. “I, and my colleagues at Baptist Health Primary Care, typically have one day a week where we conduct virtual visits. Our staff offer these appointments when the visit can be appropriately handled online.”
What types of appointments can be handled online?
Virtual visits can be used effectively to evaluate respiratory infections, such as flu, COVID-19 and the common cold, Dr. Menendez notes. She also uses online visits to assess some skin conditions, asthma-related breathing problems, conjunctivitis or pink eye, minor cuts or orthopedic injuries, and mental illness.
Dr. Menendez says some conditions, though, warrant in-person visits, because she must physically examine a patient. These include evaluations for earaches, complex rashes, pelvic or abdominal pain, genital or rectal conditions, breast exams and complex orthopedic injuries.
“These require me to get a close look at or touch the patient to understand what might be going on,” she said.
Can my annual wellness exam be online?
For patients who have been seen in her office in the past or for any patients who don’t have any serious health concerns, Dr. Menendez can use telemedicine to conduct their annual wellness exam. She can order lab work, imaging studies and prescription medications just as she does during a regular office visit. Of course, testing requires patients to visit a lab or diagnostic imaging center at another time, but Dr. Menendez will receive the results and go over them with her patients just as she does with in-person visits.
What happens at my scheduled appointment time?
Once a telemedicine appointment is scheduled, any necessary paperwork will be sent electronically by the Baptist Health Primary Care scheduling team along with instructions on how to fill out the forms and return them. Then, shortly before the scheduled appointment, a medical assistant will call to go over your medical history and current concerns. You will be provided with a link for the secure, online visit.
At your appointment time, click the link and when the doctor is ready, he or she will appear on the screen of your computer, tablet or smartphone through a secure audio and video connection. If any additional tests, labs or prescriptions are necessary, the doctor will order them, and additional instructions will be sent to you following the visit. Dr. Menendez says most telemedicine visits last between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on the complexity of the concern.
Does insurance cover telemedicine visits?
While telemedicine began to gain traction prior to the pandemic, the need for care during periods of quarantine accelerated insurance companies’ acceptance of online visits.
“We bill for virtual visits the same way we do for in-office visits,” Dr. Menendez said. “If your regular office visit has a $30 copay, that’s what we’ll ask you to pay after your online appointment. There’s no difference in payment.”
What happens if we lose the connection during the online appointment?
While rare, connections are sometimes lost during appointments, Dr. Menendez admits. When that happens, she says, she tries to reach the patient through the chat function to re-establish the connection. If that’s unsuccessful, she calls the patient on the phone number provided, so it’s important to give an accurate phone number when making the appointment. And for patients without computers or Internet connectivity, Dr. Menendez says phone appointments can be conducted.
Tips for Successful Virtual Visits
To ensure the best possible experience with your virtual visit, Dr. Menendez recommends the following tips:
- Be sure you have a strong online connection in the location where you hold the appointment.
- Set up in a quiet and private location, free of distraction or interruption.
- Refrain from driving during your appointment.
- If you do not see the doctor on the screen within five minutes of your scheduled appointment, call the office and alert the staff.
Patient Privacy Is Key
Just as important, if not more important, than patients being in a quiet, private location during the appointment, Dr. Menendez says patients should understand that she and her colleagues adhere to stringent privacy guidelines as well.
“When I hold virtual visits, I am all alone either in an exam room or in my office with the door closed. I wear headphones so no one can hear the patient, and I position myself with my back against a wall to prevent anyone from being able to see the patient on my screen,” she said. Because she may have to have a patient show her something closely through the camera, she stresses the importance of patients being in a private location. She also notes that to maintain the utmost privacy, there is no way for the appointments to be recorded.
‘A Safe Way to Manage Health’
Dr. Menendez says that her patients who have taken advantage of virtual visits have reported being grateful to have an alternative way to speak with doctors about their health.
“As a primary care physician, my goal is to treat my patients as a whole,” she said. “My fear at the beginning of the pandemic was that patients would delay taking care of their health concerns and not manage their chronic conditions. Thankfully, telemedicine has provided a quick, efficient and safe way to manage health. I’m able to see my patients and make sure they stay as healthy as possible.”
Book an appointment
Now more than ever, it’s important to establish a relationship with a primary care doctor – someone who will get to know you and your healthcare needs. Baptist Health Primary Care providers can help guide and manage your overall health and wellness, both in-person and through virtual visits. Our doctors and advanced practitioners aid in the early detection of disease and long-term health problems, help address any worrisome symptoms, manage chronic conditions, prescribe medications and advise on achieving overall health goals. Should you require specialized care, we provide access to Baptist Health’s comprehensive network of expert physicians and resources, keeping your health at the heart of what we do.
For appointments, physician referrals, or second opinions please call us at 786-596-2464. International patients, please call 786-596-2373.