By Jennifer “Lizzie” MacDonald
There’s no doubt that when Covid-19 hit, many doctors shuttered their practices. Many of us (patients) were offered the opportunity to have medical care done via telehealth. Most insurance companies made immediate exemptions to cover this type of care when it wasn’t previously covered in general. This was a new experience for me.
Then, the chronic illness community began to ask: “Why weren’t we given telehealth access prior to Covid?”. Many patients with chronic or complex diseases often don’t have the stamina to get to the doctor – whether the doctor is a mile away or a hundred miles away. I know at my sickest, I had to cancel several appointments because I just didn’t have the energy for the long commute. I wasn’t being lazy – I was being genuine.
The chronic illness community has been feverishly engaged in stressful talks, wanting to know if telehealth will still be offered and how it NEEDS to be. While I have definitely found convenience in it myself, I have missed seeing some of my providers in person.
So, as the uproar of the chronic illness community continued questioning, “why now and not before?”, I personally began noticing things about telehealth that gave me insight into who my medical providers were as people.
In the beginning, there were computer glitches, which were to be expected. One day, I was in the middle of a session with my specialist with whom I’ve become quite close. For some reason, her computer froze at the exact moment she had what looked to be a frown on her face even though I was able to hear her. The frozen screen made her appear she was unhappy for thirty minutes. At the end of our appointment, I jokingly asked her, “why were you frowning at me for half an hour?” We both laughed. In the last minute, she came back online, and I was able to see her usual smile with the equally concerned expression she uses with me in person.
“Why were you frowning at me for half an hour?” – Lizzie
Another memorable telehealth session was with my pain management specialist. While she was very seriously looking at my MRI’s on her other computer screen, a little voice appeared in her background: “mommy, mommy, I got it!” After positively affirming her daughter, my pain management specialist sheepishly looked at me and said in a smile, “she’s been working on that tooth all day. Sorry, I guess it’s the nature of telehealth”.
I wasn’t sorry at all. This happening made me realize that as I didn’t need to drive across town to see a provider, they didn’t have to either. I was excited that a mom, whom I’ve only known in a medical context, was able to be home for her daughter’s big moment. It was wonderful that a little girl got to immediately tell her mom the good news instead of waiting for her mom to get home from work when that pure joy might have been lost. I remember wiggling those teeth for hours as a little girl and how I felt victorious when it was finally in the palm of my hand.
Through a computer screen, I’ve seen the home interiors of medical providers. I’ve been graced to meet their pets. I’ve been invited into their homes on this limited level, and I have seen their decorating tastes – or lack thereof!
Similarly, I have invited my medical providers into my home – virtually, of course. They have met my one little dog who always needs to be on top of me. My medical providers have seen me sitting on a yoga bolster trying to stretch my back by sitting with perfect posture. “What are you doing?”, they will ask. “Managing my pain”, I’ll reply.
Me: “Managing my pain…”
Depending upon where I may be seated in my house, my medical professionals may see the artwork on my walls and ask, “what’s that piece behind you?”. I’ll explain that art is just a hobby I do in my spare time to keep myself motivated. Usually from there, our medical discussion will lead to me explaining my art and them wanting me to point my camera closer to a particular piece. Often I hear, “I had no idea you did that”.
Most of the doctors I see are going to a hybrid model of going into their office some days of the week and staying home on others. I hope this accessibility to virtual meetings will continue for the patients who are too severely sick to travel.
Regardless of what happens, though, I have found a lot more of what I can only describe as “humanness” in some of my providers. For all I know, they might be itching to get back to the office to really see patients.
As a patient in a time of so much isolation, I was terrified to not meet with my providers in person. I thought I would feel cold and disconnected when seeing someone on a computer screen. The irony is that I got to know more about my providers than just some person with a white coat and exam table, while they have seen that I’m more than just a person with several complex conditions.
I got to see so much more of them as they did of me. We are able to connect.
Jennifer “Lizzie” MacDonald leads the Patient Advocacy Program at River’s Edge Pharmacy. As a patient with multiple chronic conditions, Lizzie has first-hand experience with navigating the complex health system.
Throughout her journey, she has become impassioned with sharing her knowledge and serving as an ambassador for patient independence, wellness, and recovery. This not only lead to patients’ relief and comfort, it has provided an opportunity for doctors to utilize a patient advocate for more effective and time-saving care in their practices.
Lizzie is an outspoken supporter of creating community through support groups as well as through the invaluable connection of one-on-one interactions for patients who are managing chronic/complex illnesses. Through her efforts, she has emboldened patients to share their ideas, goals, and triumphs, as well as live life to the fullest, regardless of their condition(s).
Lizzie can be reached at Jennifer.MacDonald@repharmacy.com