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How Telemedicine Has Improved My Relationship With My Doctors

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Telemedicine: the modern version of a house call.  The sudden thrust into a pandemic brought about a lot of change for many; but for those in the chronic illness community, our medical care changed more than many of us could ever imagine.  Many of us went from lab work and seeing our medical team monthly to going months without personal interaction from those that care for us.  The introduction into telemedicine came rapidly for both patients and physicians, and we all struggled with seeing how telemedicine would fit into our care as we knew it. Honestly, if you would have told me four months ago that I would be video chatting with my physician, I would have laughed.

As I watched many of my fellow chronic illness warriors cancel appointments or move them months out, I knew I needed to stay on my monthly schedule for check-ins with my rheumatologist. I have not been stable for some time; my body and blood had been taking a pretty hard hit before the pandemic.  I was also in the midst of a medication change when the world came to a complete standstill.

Like others, I struggled with what sort of care I could receive via a telemedicine visit.  It wasn’t like my physician could examine my joints or listen to my lungs and heart — all of which are impacted by my disease.  This virtual appointment would be purely talk.  But, let’s face it… I am pretty good at talking.  After all, I have a minor in Speech Communications and my report card as a child always read “frequently disturbs others.”

The first month appointment was a bit awkward. Consider it first date awkward, the coffee date. I nervously fixed my hair as I tried to capture my best side on camera. This was a different video call than those I have with my mom on the weekend where I just roll out of bed and call her with bedhead and “sleepies” in my eyes.  Both my doctor and I worked to figure out telemedicine.  Mostly, it was a lot of talk about the pandemic.  In the background, I fussed about not showing the pile of clean clothes I hadn’t folded yet and keeping my cat from saying “hi” during my video appointment.

The second month appointment felt less awkward.  Consider this the second date, the dinner date.  At this point, the world had become familiar with video meetings, and they were happening frequently for me in my work life.  I learned that seeing my doctor via telemedicine was just another one of those meetings.  My cat had a regular place now in those meetings and I had become familiar with saying “Oh sorry, my cat just wants to be a part of this.”  The pile of clothes was no longer a concern and even my husband made a guest appearance. I had learned to just roll with the punches at that point.  My second telemedicine appointment was more talk but this time it encompassed my care, how I was doing in isolation both physically and mentally. This part of isolation needed to be discussed with the person overseeing my overall care.

While I have heard others in my chronic illness and autoimmune disease community complain about telemedicine, I see it differently.  I have worked hard to humanize myself to my medical team.  I talk about work, my relationships with friends, and my travels.  I want my doctors to know who I am outside of a patient with rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma.  I strive to be more than a number or diagnosis on a medical chart.

The reason I find this so important is because I want those caring for me to know that my illness takes up too much of who I really am. I want them to know why I am fighting to “get better,” which in my world is just stabilization.  I want them to realize I long to be doing other stuff besides visiting them each month and trying new medicines multiple times a year. Please don’t misunderstand me though; I really like my medical team.  I would rather we just meet up at Starbucks for coffee and talk friend stuff rather than discussing my lips turning blue or my hips giving out.

As we have jumped further into telemedicine, I realized what a wonderful opportunity it has presented. You see, when I attend my appointments in person, my doctor only sees what I present. I carefully pick out clothes and present myself as I want to be seen. If you are a patient, I bet you do the same.  You know that night before when you start to think about what you are going to wear.  There are the few times when I am totally sick and show up in my pajamas without brushing my teeth, but I can count those times on one hand.

So along came telemedicine and it has been this amazing tool to humanize me to my medical team. These appointments are like, “Hi, welcome to my home.”  The background noise and mess are the real me.  The cat interrupting my conversations and my husband making a guest appearance is the real me.  And yep, when I am not looking the cat drinks my coffee and is caught on camera — again, the real me. This is my life — as messy and noisy as it is — and this is why I am working to “get better.”

So, as we return to in-office appointments (whenever that may be), my team will certainly know me a bit better. I definitely have been more vulnerable with them by allowing them into my home and my real life. Vulnerability is difficult, but it helps my healthcare provider to treat the real me — cat interruptions, unfolded clothes piles and all. While the distance may be physical, the level of openness has increased. And I have telemedicine to thank for that.

For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community:

Getty image by Ridofranz.

Originally published: June 2, 2020
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