Image of woman sitting by a window in her home. She's holding a computer tablet and is talking to her doctor during a Telehealth appointment.

By Laurie Ross

Too busy for an office appointment? No transportation to get to the doctor’s office? Maybe it’s time to try the newest trend in health care: online videoconferencing with a doctor.

We trust our computers, tablets and smartphones for everything else, why not healthcare? Connecting by videoconference allows a doctor to visually assess your condition and talk through treatment options, including telehealth for asthma and allergies.

For everyday health questions and follow-up appointments, telehealth offers a simple – and often inexpensive – solution. Some employers offer them as a benefit; medical practices staff on-call doctors; and telehealth companies offer on-demand access. More and more insurance companies cover them.

While modern technology is wonderful, it’s important to note that in emergency situations where timing is critical, nothing can replace in-person treatment. If your symptoms do not improve, you feel worse, or your telehealth doctor advises you emergency care is needed, do not delay seeking treatment.

Here are four ways to ensure a successful telehealth visit:

1 – Choose wisely

Does your employer, insurance plan or health clinic offer a telehealth service? Then your decision is made for you. If not, do an Internet search for “top telehealth companies” and compare options. Then go to your phone’s app store and download the telehealth company app onto your phone or tablet. Take time to register, test out the connection and get set up on the app so you’re ready when you need it.

2 – Plan your approach

Think about what you want to accomplish during the visit: Understanding your medications or treatment options? Renewing a prescription? Getting help for a specific medical condition or set of symptoms? Try to prioritize what is most important for you during the call, as time may be limited.

3 – Set the scene

Find a quiet, private place to talk – away from children, pets and other distractions. Make sure you can be there for 30 minutes or so – you’ll likely talk with a nurse or medical assistant first, then wait a few minutes for the doctor. Most appointments last about 15 minutes. Charge or plug in your phone or computer; get some paper and a pen for taking notes. Gather medical equipment such as a thermometer, asthma inhaler or peak flow meter, if appropriate. If you use an app or electronic device like a peak flow meter to track symptoms daily, gather your data to have it close at hand.

4 – Talk it through

Your conversation with the doctor will be much like an in-person appointment. Write down what you want to discuss before you start and be sure you cover everything.

Be prepared to answer: What symptoms do you have? How long have they been going on? What have you done to treat them so far? What were the results?

Most telehealth providers will email patient assessment and instructions after the visit is completed, but it’s wise to write them down to make sure you understand everything.

Reviewed by Purvi Parikh, MD