When COVID-19 became a global pandemic in March 2020, the healthcare industry fundamentally changed, almost overnight.
Well before COVID, studies were showing that telemedicine, especially when combined with in-person appointments and at-home blood pressure and fetal heart rate monitoring, is an effective and safe way to monitor low-risk pregnancies.
But now, in an attempt to limit potential exposure to the virus, obstetrician offices began rolling out and encouraging telemedicine appointments in much larger numbers and with greater urgency than before. As a result, such appointments are now regularly covered by insurance, and may be a better option for pregnant people seeking care.
Read on for some tips about what to expect during a telemedicine appointment with your obstetrician and how to know if it’s a good choice for you.
First of all, what is a telemedicine appointment?
A telemedicine appointment is a meeting with your care provider that takes place over a secure, HIPAA-compliant video chat software. “Telemedicine” refers specifically to remote clinical visits, so that one-on-one time with your obstetrician, whereas “telehealth” encompasses broader wellness-related services and outcomes, such as remote monitoring of blood pressure or vital signs.
What can I expect during an appointment?
Instead of visiting your obstetrician’s office, you participate in a private video call. You’d still be able to ask your doctor the same questions or voice the same concerns, and you’d likely still be scheduled for the same amount of time.
Before your appointment, you may be asked to download the video chat software and test your access to it, following step-by-step prompts. Your computer or tablet will have to have a camera and microphone, and you’ll want a high-speed internet connection.
You will also likely be asked to purchase a blood pressure monitor and a scale to participate in telemedicine appointments, and you may choose to also buy a Doppler fetal heart rate monitor. Insurance does not usually cover these additional tools at this time. Take your blood pressure and weigh yourself before the meeting; the doctor will ask for this information.
You will be able to work with the front desk associates over the phone and email before your appointment to fill out any necessary paperwork or update any of your existing records. If you can, take some time before your appointment to write down all of your questions. If you get distracted during the appointment, you’ll have a way to remember what you wanted to ask and ensure you get the information you need.
Who is a good candidate for a telemedicine appointment?
The biggest advantage to telemedicine appointments is the access it provides to a doctor while providing safe social and physical distancing. But it also makes seeing a provider easier for patients who have older children who may be at home now with schools and day cares closed, and for pregnant women who have jobs with limited flexibility or without sick leave. A 15-minute video conference is far easier to fit into a scheduled break or a toddler’s nap time than a roundtrip to a doctor’s office!
Some practices provide guidelines or requirements for women considering telemedicine appointments during their pregnancies. For example, one health system in Northern Virginia does not offer telemedicine appointments to any women younger than 18 or older than 36, those with a chronic medical condition, or those expecting twins, and it cautions that previous pregnancy complications can also eliminate eligibility for telemedicine appointments. In other words, the higher the risk of your pregnancy, the more likely the doctor will want to see you in person.
How do I know if telemedicine is right for me?
Ultimately, it’s a decision that is up to you and your doctor. Together, you can consider the risk of COVID-19 exposure, your pregnancy’s progress, your access and ability to monitor your own blood pressure, your comfort with technology, and any other concerns that are particular to you and your pregnancy.
As with so many decisions in pregnancy and motherhood, you are the expert on how to best advocate for yourself and your baby—whether that’s in person or online.