Welcome to the new normal, where social distancing has moved birthday parties, graduation ceremonies and gym classes online. And in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, even doctor’s appointments have gone virtual.
On one hand, it’s nice to no longer have to wrestle your toddler into the car seat and then try to entertain them in the waiting room (while making sure they don’t touch anything). But then again, if your kid is sick or due for a check-up, you want to make sure they are getting the care and attention they need.
“Now more than ever, pediatricians want every child to receive care for illness, wellness visits and routine vaccinations,” says Dr. Natasha Burgert from Pediatric Associates in Overland Park, Kansas. “As the pandemic continues, it's important to learn about the measures your pediatrician’s office has taken to continue to care for your community. In most areas, one way to get cared for by your child’s medical professional is through virtual visits,” she adds.
Depending on your doctor and area, many regularly scheduled well-child visits and last-minute sick visits can be conducted online. Call your pediatrician and ask them if they recommend an in-person visit or a virtual appointment. (Virtual appointments are not appropriate for serious conditions that require immediate attention or emergency care.)
Has your doc scheduled you in for a virtual session? Great. Here are some tips to make the most out of your appointment.
Check with your health insurance company. The situation with COVID-19 is changing rapidly, so it’s a good idea to double-check ahead of time with your provider to make sure that your virtual appointment will be covered.
Familiarize yourself with the technology. Virtual pediatric appointments can take place over Zoom, FaceTime or dedicated telehealth apps. Meaning that if you can’t figure out how to mute yourself (or your screaming five-year-old) on Zoom, there’s probably another alternative. Pediatric appointments typically work better over smartphones than web cameras so you can better show your doctor what’s going on (like a rash on your kid’s leg, for example). Just make sure to download the required app or software ahead of time and that you have a good internet connection.
Get set up before the appointment. Here are few items to have nearby: pen and paper, a scale, a tape measurer, a thermometer, any medications your child is taking and a flashlight (to look inside throats or at rashes).
Arrive early. Getting connected is inevitably going to take a few minutes so plan on being set up and ready to go ten minutes before your appointment time.
Plan for your appointment like you would an in-person visit. That means having a written timeline of symptoms on hand and a list of questions or concerns, plus your kid’s medical history if this is a new doctor you’re seeing. And just as you would do for in-person appointments, send any relevant photos or documents to your doctor ahead of time. Many telehealth platforms have a specific function for sending these types of documents.
Sit in a quiet, well-lit space. Don’t sit in a loud or heavily-trafficked area of your home (like in the backyard or kitchen). You’ll also want to avoid positioning yourself in front of a bright window since that will obscure the view of your face (and your kid’s). Where’s a good place to go? Try the bathroom, says Dr. Burgert.
Bring a toy. Depending on your kid’s age, they might be a little apprehensive (or, uh, bored) about seeing their pediatrician via a screen. Keeping their favorite stuffed animal or another toy handy can help. Introducing Elly the elephant to their doctor just might put them at ease before the examination can begin.
Don’t stress. These are strange times and your virtual appointment might not go seamlessly from start to finish—you might lose the connection, your kid might decide to throw a tantrum or the family dog might decide to come and say hello. Hey, these things happen. Just try to keep you cool and remember to be kind to yourself (and your doctor).