Across the globe, people are continuing to adjust their lifestyles due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the changes many patients are experiencing is meeting with their doctors virtually for routine appointments. What does this mean exactly for patients at Massachusetts Eye and Ear? Paul M. Konowitz, MD, division chief of the Ear, Nose and Throat Suburban Centers, and Amy C. Watts, OD, director of the Optometry and Contact Lens Service at Mass. Eye and Ear, weighed in on answers to frequently asked questions.
1. What is a virtual visit?
A virtual visit is a medical service between a patient and his or her healthcare specialist, which is done by telephone or video chat while the patient remains at home. Conducted in real-time, virtual visits use a two-way communication device such as a telephone, tablet or computer, and allow specialists to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients using every day technology.
“The goal of virtual visits is to deliver quality care just like an in-person appointment from the convenience and safety of your home,” said Dr. Konowitz, an ENT specialist at Mass. Eye and Ear, who is seeing patients via phone call or video conference.
These types of visits are entirely private and confidential; appointments are never recorded and patient information is never shared. You may have heard the terms virtual visit, telemedicine and telehealth, and they all refer to the same experience.
2. How do I know if I qualify for a virtual visit?
The need for a virtual visit is assessed on an individual basis and determined at the time of appointment scheduling. If you are a candidate, the visit can be conducted through a number of tools, including phone and video conferencing resources, such as Zoom.
“At Mass. Eye and Ear, these types of visits are intended for new and established patients who require non-urgent eye, ear, nose, throat, head and neck care,” commented Dr. Watts, an optometrist at Mass. Eye and Ear, who is offering virtual appointments. “It’s important to note that during the appointment scheduling call, the patient could be asked to come into the hospital depending on the severity of his or her case. Also, the Emergency Department at Mass. Eye and Ear is still open and available 24/7 to our patients in need of urgent care.”
3. What do I need to participate?
In order to take part, you will need a telephone, tablet or computer. If you have a telephone visit, be sure your phone is easily accessible. In advance of a video appointment, it will be important to check that your device meets the following technical requirements:
- A reliable internet connection
- Speakers and a microphone on your device
- Desktop computer, laptop, Android or iPad/iPhone with a built in camera or webcam (video camera that’s connected to the internet)
Many healthcare specialists are using Zoom, a tool that allows doctors to communicate with their patients via video conference. Zoom can be downloaded through the Apple Store, Google Play, or directly from the Zoom website.
At Mass. Eye and Ear, patients are now able to have a video visit through Patient Gateway, an online portal for patients of the Mass General Brigham health system, which is a secure website that provides patients with the ability to communicate with their doctor, upload a photo for review, see test results, view upcoming appointments, etc. The Patient Gateway app is also available for download. This website provides optimal patient safety and support with a dedicated help line to answer any questions.
“We are thrilled to be able to offer appointments with our patients through this secure environment,” said Dr. Konowitz. “We have been extremely satisfied with the capability of this technology as it allows us to effectively listen to our patients and then use our expertise to deliver exceptional care for routine to complex issues.”
4. What can I expect during my virtual appointment?
For a telephone call, your provider will contact you via the phone number on record, which is confirmed at the time of scheduling your appointment. For a video visit, your doctor’s office will also communicate how best to prepare by either sharing instructions or directing you on where to find more information.
Typically, billing for a virtual visit happens the same way as it does for in-person services, and copays may apply. Please contact your insurance provider to find out more.
5. What are the benefits?
Virtual visits make health care more readily accessible for patients. By using this service, patients have the ability to schedule an appointment at a time that is convenient for them and in a setting where they feel most comfortable. It also allows patients to avoid time spent commuting and in a waiting/exam room. Additionally, doctors are able to give a proper diagnosis, and prescribe any medications as needed.
Currently at Mass. Eye and Ear, all services and specialties are offering virtual appointments for new and established patients.
“I have been impressed with how our patients have embraced virtual visits,” said Dr. Watts. “As we adapt in this ever-changing environment, our hope is to continue to offer this as an option in the future. Virtual visits will become the new normal well beyond our current situation with COVID-19.”
To find out if you qualify for a virtual appointment, please contact your doctor’s office directly. For more information, visit MassEyeAndEar.org/virtual-visits.
About Our Experts
Paul M. Konowitz, MD is vice chair of Strategic Network Development and division chief of Ear, Nose and Throat Suburban Centers at Mass. Eye and Ear. He provides comprehensive ENT care.
Amy C. Watts, OD, is an optometrist and director of both the Optometry and Contact Lens, and Vision Rehabilitation Services at Mass. Eye and Ear. She provides routine and specialized contact lens fittings.