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Virtual doctor visits become mainstream

We’ve learned to have meetings and school online, buy groceries through an app and even get together with friends on a Zoom call. And now we can see our doctor without leaving home, too. As telehealth takes off, it is finding a niche for meeting the needs of patients. 

Women may find virtual visits especially helpful, especially for routine prenatal and well visit appointments.

“Obviously, in a virtual visit, you are going to be limited in your ability to do any kind of exam or in-person evaluation,” Darcy Slizewski, an OB/GYN with Prisma Health’s Piedmont OB/GYN, said. “You can’t do an ultrasound. But if it’s a patient who is looking to try different forms of birth control and wants to know the pros and cons, that’s basically a counseling visit and it’s something we can very easily do from a telehealth standpoint.”

The benefits abound, even aside from the pandemic. Patients don’t have to take extended time off from work or get childcare. Slizewski said telehealth visits can work well for pre-conception counseling and even minor gynecological problems like yeast infections, though some of those visits will require a follow up in the office if treatment isn’t effective. 

“We have used telehealth for several of the prenatal visits,” Slizewski said. “Most patients have around 10 prenatal visits over the course of their pregnancy. There are several visits where, most of the time, it’s conversation. We’re talking with patient about what symptoms they’re feeling, if those symptoms are normal for pregnancy, things we want them to look out for – anticipatory guidance for what they may be looking ahead for in the upcoming weeks of their pregnancy.”

In a pandemic, choosing a virtual appointment can help by protecting both the patient and those who need to come in the office for a visit.  

Slizewski said it is always good to prepare a list of questions in advance, no matter how the visit is conducted, and to know that this is just one option in a changing world that includes adapting to all sorts of new ways of doing things.

“We’ve all grown up with going to the doctor’s office and sitting in the waiting room,” she said. “What I don’t want to do is have them feel that we are pushing them off in any way. We are trying to fill the gap. There are so many changes and we’re all kind of learning as we go. Telehealth is one way to bridge the gap.”

But Slizewski is already hearing from patients who love the time saving option.

“When coronavirus is a thing of the past, I think people will still want telehealth,” she said.