If someone had sent me a Zoom meeting request last year, I would not have known what Zoom was, and I certainly would not have known how to join a virtual meeting. Flash forward to today, when I have three Zoom calls and am a pro at wearing collared shirts and sweatpants.
There is no denying that COVID-19 has increased the nation’s dependence on technology for communication. In particular, the pandemic has more or less forced the medical community to embrace virtual patient visits. As a medical and public health student, I initially struggled with the idea. As I saw the schedule of virtual visits, I snarked about the loss of the patient-physician relationship. I value looking my patient in the eye as he expresses his worry about his recent hearing loss influencing his profession as a pianist, noticing the subtle downturn of her lips as I suggest she cut back on her soda intake, appreciating the calluses of a woodworker as I perform my physical exam. But over time I realized that virtual visits have their advantages.
Virtual medical care increases health care access, protects those whose immune systems are compromised, and decreases anxiety about valued time lost to travel and missed work. For example, a young, working mother of three seeking a refill of her diabetes medication who had a physical exam and lab work at her OB-GYN appointment last week is a great candidate for a virtual visit. She does not have to find a babysitter and take off work yet again. An 84-year old man who just finished his second round of chemotherapy being seen for a mental health visit does not have to be exposed to the wealth of bacteria a clinic setting has to offer.
Moreover, patients tend to be more comfortable in the familiarity of their own homes. In one particular visit, I could almost feel a patient’s anxiety decrease as her shoulders settled from her ears to her chest, her relaxed mannerism flowing through the screen as I watched her Yorkie sniff around in the background.
I would be naïve to state that virtual visits are superior to in-person visits, but they provide a valuable resource that should be embraced in certain situations post-COVID. Virtual visits provide a unique opportunity for patients and physicians alike, and thus should be an adaptation the medical community preserves post-pandemic. I hope that we as a medical community will continue to embrace virtual visits, realizing that sometimes a screaming toddler echoing in the background is an even trade for the time saved, comfort gained, and the availability of virtual medicine.
MD/MPH candidate, LSUHSC New Orleans