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A man participates in a virtual visit with his doctor.

What you need to know about virtual visits

During the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone seems to be going online – even your doctor. But is a virtual visit with your physician just as good as an in-person one?

It’s true that seeing a doctor online is a little different from an office visit. But you’ll receive the same level of care you always get, says Piedmont internal medicine physician Samantha Avoke, M.D.

“A video visit is high-quality,” she says. Not every doctor appointment can be done virtually, she says, but you may be surprised at how many kinds of visits can happen from the safety and comfort of your home.

What kind of appointments work for virtual visits

Many visit types translate easily to the screen, Dr. Avoke says. For example, you can almost always book virtual visits for:

  • Follow-up appointments
  • Medication refills
  • Results review (ex: lab tests)
  • Behavioral health (ex: depression, anxiety)
  • Change-of-care plan (ex: changing medications)

Many non-emergency sick visits can also be performed online, Dr. Avoke says. By sharing your symptoms and health history with your doctor, you can often get treatment without setting foot in an office.

“If you say you have a sore throat, I say, ‘You can open up and show it to me on the screen,’” Dr. Avoke says. “Once people understand that, they’re fine.”

Doesn’t my doctor need to see and touch me?

Being honest about your symptoms and health history may provide all the information needed for a diagnosis, she says.

Additionally, healthcare tools you have at home allow you to share more information with your physician. If you own a thermometer and blood pressure monitor, for example, you may be asked to use them and report results to the doctor.

“I have patients sending me pictures before appointments if they have something they want me to see,” Dr. Avoke says. She can then perform research and confer with colleagues before appointments.

How do I know if I need an in-person visit?

Some visits do require in-person care. For example, emergencies always require immediate, in-person treatment.

Milder illnesses may call for office visits or lab tests, Dr. Avoke says, but your physician will work with you to determine what’s necessary.

If you have non-emergency symptoms of flu, COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses, booking a virtual visit helps you get the treatment you need while keeping others safe.

“I want people to know that especially when it comes to your primary care physicians, if your physician thinks they need to see you in person they’ll tell you,” she says.

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