Plus, personalized tips for successful telehealth appointments and overall good health
Many things have changed since the holiday season just one year ago.
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic kicked the doors open to a whole new world here in the U.S. And it’s likely that a lot of these changes—like social distancing, mask-wearing, and working from home—are here to stay for the foreseeable future.
But perhaps one of the biggest and most notable new changes that is here to stay is how we “see” our doctor.
The use of telehealth services has skyrocketed in popularity since the beginning of the year. And major healthcare providers and payers—Medicare, included—are now giving the green light to virtual doctor “visits” in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
But what does that mean for you, as a patient? And how can we expect it to change the healthcare landscape, for better or for worse? Well, let’s take a look…
Insurance gives the green light
There are advantages and disadvantages to any technological advancements. And while some may not stand the test of time, I do believe telehealth is here to stay—thanks, in large part, to insurance. Insurance companies were quick to jump on the bandwagon. (Kudos to them for actually thinking of the patients’ best interests for a change!)
Plus, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made policy changes that gave Medicare recipients expanded access to telehealth services. (Before the pandemic, these services weren’t covered except for under very specific circumstances.)
These changes included giving the green light for new patient appointments. They also tweaked provider restrictions and added 80 additional telehealth services to existing coverage. And they approved a longer list of telecommunication mediums—including popular platforms like Zoom.
Given this expanded access alone, I think it’s safe to say that these changes are going to last well after the pandemic is over—something that could have a significant and enduring impact on the quality of healthcare in this country.
Telehealth is here to stay
Just so you know, I’m a big fan of telehealth, personally. Why not use technology to our advantage, especially in times like these?!
For me, at least, it has been working quite effectively. I now get to see all of my patients around the country—around the world, even—without ever having to step foot outside of my office.
Of course, there are always limitations. For example, sometimes I feel as if the patient isn’t as engaged as they would be if we were meeting in person, or the appointment seems a bit more rushed.
And it gets even trickier with the older population. (And no, not only because they tend to be less tech savvy.)
The fact is, these patients are more likely to have serious health problems. And any way you slice it, it’s tough to do thorough physical exams—which would include precise weight measurements, blood pressure readings, and other vital signs—virtually.
Yes, we can all get home medical equipment, like blood pressure cuffs and scales, in theory. But in practice, the stories I could tell you about trying to examine a patient through these devices are quite comical, to say the least.
Still, as with all of the changes we’ve fielded lately, we will adjust to this new sense of “normal,” too. And we’ll likely wonder why we didn’t embrace this approach to seeing patients sooner. (I personally find virtual visits have been a blessing. After all, it’s a simple, effective, safe way to keep me connected with my patients!)
But if this approach to primary care is here to stay, there needs to be vigilant checks on the quality of that care…
Weighing your options
The pandemic has definitely put the benefits of telehealth in the spotlight. And it could be a while before we see how this rapid shift shakes out.
As I mentioned above, there are benefits and limitations to this new way of healthcare. Not being able to physically examine patients properly has been my biggest challenge, and that’s hardly a small hurdle. (That’s not even taking into account coordinating blood work and other tests.)
And with appointments happening at a distance, it’s easy to see how a very simple set of tasks for both the doctor and the patient could turn into a complicated mess of moving parts. If we don’t have our ducks in a row, a lot could slip through the cracks. (See my tips about how to ensure a successful virtual visit in the sidebar on pg. 3.)
That includes patients, themselves. The technology and internet access required to maintain telehealth may be more widely available now, but it’s not universally available by a long shot.
Location and socioeconomic status are huge factors here—as are generational differences and varying comfort levels with and access to this new technology. At the very least, we would first need to ensure that everyone has adequate internet and cellular service to accommodate telehealth appointments.
But those aren’t the only factors worth considering… we also need to look at how reassuring telehealth visits are for both the patient and the doctor.
No reason to put off routine visits
Truth is, the decision to use telehealth or not must come from you—the patient. Never settle for a virtual appointment if it doesn’t feel right. If you are still comfortable going to your doctor’s office, then there’s no reason to avoid it. (Provided that you’re being smart and taking all the necessary precautions—like using alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wearing disposable gloves, wearing a mask, and observing appropriate social distancing.)
Which brings me to one last note: Don’t put off routine health visits. Whether they’re virtual or in-person.
I realize that COVID-19 has turned every other aspect of health into background noise. But it’s important to keep in mind that there are other illnesses out to get you—diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, to name a few.
And while this pandemic may have paralyzed the country, the fact is, you can’t put your body on hold. We all still need our routine appointments with our primary care doctors, and preventative services, like dermatology exams, colonoscopies, mammograms, ultrasounds, electrocardiograms (EKGs), echocardiograms (ECHOs)…
Luckily, my patients are diligent, and have become even more proactive about the rest of their health throughout this pandemic. After all, we must still think beyond this virus. And the farther down the hole we fall, the harder it will be to get back on track.
Months of missed diagnoses
Just to underscore the urgency of this issue, allow me to present a shocking statistic, courtesy of the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science: More than 80,000 diagnoses of five common cancers likely went undiagnosed in the U.S. because of pandemic-related disruptions in routine medical care this spring.1
Between February and early April, the IQVIA report showed drops as steep as 90 percent in both screening and monitoring of breast, prostate, colorectal, cervical, and lung cancer.
And after analyzing medical claims data, the study’s authors estimated a staggering total of 22 million delays or cancellations in testing between March and June of this year, when shutdowns were still in full effect. As a result, over those three months, we’re looking at as many as:
- 36,000 missed breast cancer diagnoses
- 22,600 missed prostate cancer diagnoses
- 18,800 missed colorectal cancer diagnoses
- 2,500 missed cervical cancer diagnoses
- 450 missed lung cancer diagnoses
Needless to say, that’s an awful lot of cancers to miss. And it doesn’t even include all of the cancelled “elective procedures,” such as removal of cancerous masses. (I don’t know about you, but having cancer removed from my body—if that was the treatment plan I chose—is certainly NOT elective.)
The most essential services out there
Even with shutdowns behind us, we’re likely still slogging through this backlog, all while attempting to stay on schedule with ongoing tests and screenings. (And who knows what’s in store next, as infection rates continue to spike…)
So here’s my firm recommendation: Get out there and have your routine tests and screens done while you can. Offices are open for procedures like this. Yes, things will be more cumbersome, and there will very likely be a longer waiting time.
But there is no time like the present to attend to your health. Because the consequences of putting it off could prove deadly.
If there is an open window in your community, I encourage you to take it. As far as I’m concerned, these routine services don’t get more essential. And with the coronavirus situation changing on a literal daily basis, we must take advantage of these openings wisely.
Prevention still starts at home
In the meantime, keep in mind that—with a second, potentially deadlier wave of COVID-19 cases poised to dominate healthcare resources through the winter—it’s also more important than ever to take your health into your own hands.
I urge you to search the archives on my website (www.DrPescatore.com), take advantage of all of my health protocols, and check out the Dr. Fred channel on YouTube—all of which are packed with information that can help you stay on track, even during future quarantines.
Because despite the continuing chaos, you simply can’t afford to skimp on your diet, exercise, and supplement routines.
Remember that the absolute best thing you can do as we head into another winter AND continue battling COVID-19 is to ensure that your immune system is as strong as it can be—because that will give you the edge against every health concern in the book.
So… eat well. Sleep well. Drink enough water. Exercise every day. And of course, follow my immune-fortifying supplement protocol—which includes 23 mg of zinc, 100 to 150 mg of elderberry, and 1,000 mg of vitamin C three times per day, every day. You can also add melatonin into the mix if you’re having trouble getting restful sleep each night. I recommend a starting dose of 3mg at bedtime. (You can slowly increase the dosage in increments if need be, just never exceed 20 mg.)
And if you start to feel something coming on? Well, you’ll want to call your doctor right away. (Remember, if you’re not confident you will receive proper diagnosis and treatment through a virtual visit, demand an in-person appointment.) But this is what I do at the first inkling that I may be getting sick—and I haven’t suffered a full-blown illness in decades:
- Vitamin D—1,250 mcg (50,000 IU) for two days
- Vitamin A (as retinol)—12,000 mcg (40,000 IU) for two days
- Olive leaf extract—500 mg three times per day for two days
- Oil of oregano—500 mg three times per day for two days
For more tips, I urge you to check out my Complete Guide to Year-Round Immunity. It outlines all of my top immune health recommendations, which nobody can afford to skip—this year, or any year. To gain access to this essential guide, click here or call 1-888-477-2427 and ask for order code EOV1WC00.
SIDEBAR: Telehealth: Ensure an effective visit
The list of considerations to consider when scheduling a virtual visit is endless. But they’re not something that we can’t overcome. So, here are three tips to ensure you feel confident, comfortable, and safe at your next virtual appointment.
Prior to the visit, you should:
1.) Request step-by-step instructions. Ask your doctor’s office what program they will be using for your visit and request step-by-step instructions. Then, test it out on your computer or phone beforehand. If you’re having trouble, don’t hesitate to call back and ask for further assistance.
2.) Make a list of priority items to discuss. This will help maximize your appointment time and ensure all of your primary concerns are addressed. You can even take photos of any physical symptoms you may have and share them with your doctor—if you’re not comfortable showing them in “real time” during the visit.
3.) Ask for a recap before logging off. Review what was discussed during your appointment. Then, ask your provider when they would like to see you again and confirm if it will be virtual or in-person.
- Murray A and Kleinrock M. “Shifts in healthcare demand, delivery and care during the COVID-19 era.” IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science. April 2020.