Question: How do I know if my doctor does virtual appointments? Can I use apps like FaceTime or Google Hangouts to meet virtually with my doctor?

Answer: Special technology is not required to meet with a doctor virtually – some of the apps and services you use every day will work just fine. That’s because during the COVID-19 pandemic, the US government has relaxed certain rules and is allowing patients and medical providers to meet over commonly used platforms like FaceTime or Google Hangouts. Even traditional audio calls are often allowed.

You can ask your doctor’s office if they meet with patients virtually, and if so, what technology options are available.

Q: How can I be assured a virtual conversation with my doctor is private and secure?

A: Communications tools designed for the specific use of virtual healthcare appointments are considered private and secure. Commonly used tools like FaceTime have not traditionally been considered private and secure by government regulators, but during these difficult days, they may be the best option for doctors and patients getting started with virtual visits.

Q: Is there a cost to meet with my doctor virtually? If so, how can I find out if my insurance will cover it as a normal medical appointment?

A: Virtual appointments with a doctor or other medical provider typically cost the same amount as an in-person appointment. You’ll want to confirm with your insurance provider that it covers virtual appointments, but many currently are as they understand large swaths of the country are under stay-at-home orders.

Q: Will things I mention to a doctor during a virtual appointment be documented in my medical records?

A: Yes, information will be documented in your electronic health record, just as if it were an in-person appointment.

Q: What expectations should I have for a virtual appointment? How will it differ from an in-person appointment?

A: You should expect your provider to show the same concern they always have and to work with you to help you live your healthiest life. Obviously, portions of an in-person appointment can’t be replicated – if you’re hoping to have an annual physical virtually, it’s not possible for your doctor to tap on your knee for a reflex test! But virtual meetings with your medical provider are still beneficial and give you a chance to talk with a professional about your health.

Q: If I like meeting virtually with my doctor, will I be able to after the COVID-19 pandemic is over?

A: We will see! It will depend on a number of factors, including what the government, insurance companies and medical providers think of virtual appointments. But virtual appointments do offer some intriguing benefits, including the opportunity for underserved areas to have greater access to healthcare. And virtual appointments may make it easier for doctors to monitor patients with chronic conditions. With all of that said, if you like virtually meeting with your doctor, let them know!