Covid or not, people still need to see their doctor. As a neurosurgery coordinator for a hospital, I educate patients on treatments, schedule visits, and retrieve records. Some of those visits are telemedicine (online video) appointments. Virtual health care has become a necessity but also a choice. Yet many still don’t understand what online medical charts are or how to best use them. It’s not just for simple scheduling with your primary care doc or meds refill requests.

Contrary to what some may think, telemedicine is not FaceTime or Zoom. Yes, it’s a video chat, but your doctor can also store and view x-rays, MRIs, bloodwork, and other notes all via one encrypted portal. You, the patient, can become an active participant in your own care by uploading or sharing information via this portal, including messages to your doctor. You can also give access to your online chart to other hospitals, so that more than one facility can access your information. It saves a lot of phone calls and faxes for everyone, including you.

For Covid patients, telemed has been a huge assist in monitoring those too weak to travel to an office.

Jeff Langello, an IT consultant, spoke to his primary doctor from home after being diagnosed with Covid and then suffering chills, fevers, and hallucinations. He was too weak to move for days. He was able to log on from his couch. I asked him if he preferred in person or virtual appointments.

“Normally, I like in-person appointments, but I couldn’t move. The doctor saw me and asked me questions regarding my breathing, fever. There wasn’t much he could do with a virus, but I felt better talking to him.”

Jeff also mentioned that for first time users, it can be a little tricky but not difficult if patients are given instructions and walked through the process.

According to Dr. David Shapiro, an orthopedic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, online care is not just for the tech savvy or for younger generations:

“Despite minor tech issues, and first navigating through an app, we have not really found age limitations. It’s less of a difference than I would have expected. There are younger people who are not able to connect to the internet and older patients who are more tech-savvy than I appreciated. It was really a question of which patients were a good or bad fit for online care and how we could figure out a baseline for treatment. But when Covid hit, we all just jumped in.”

Dr. Jesse Green is a professor of clinical medicine in gastroenterology at the University of Pennsylvania. Like Dr. Shapiro, he mentioned the push for telemed appointments at the start of the pandemic, but also noted the speed in which physicians and patients adjusted.

“For my patients around 85 percent across all age groups can do it very well. Older patients in their eighties and nineties typically have children or other relatives help set up the tech. Our office walks them through it and we have a helpline. A majority of my patients have chronic diseases or issues that need several follow-up visits a year. With telemed, we can still garner that info on video and make adjustments to medications. It’s true access to care.”