How Helpful Are Virtual Appointments for Psoriatic Arthritis?
Depending on traffic, I live about 30-45 minutes away from my closest doctor. My furthest specialist is located over 2 hours away. Going there can turn into an all-day affair, or an overnight stay at a hotel due to traffic.
The two-hour drive that turned into a four-hour-and-30-minute drive due to an accident on the highway was the final straw. It made me a proponent for virtual appointments, which totally fell on deaf ears at all levels of my health care.
Are virtual appointments a new normal?
It wasn’t just healthcare providers who were not receptive to making virtual appointments a normal cog on the standard of care wheel. Health insurance providers needed to provide a billing code for the doctors to use.
Without a code, they cannot bill or get reimbursed. This is oversimplifying it, I know. There is a layer of ensuring privacy and data security to contend with, as well.
The benefit of virtual appointments
After that very long drive, I began to half-joke and half-campaigning for virtual appointments to become available at the specialist office located two hours away. Driving two hours in each direction for a 15-minute appointment, with psoriatic arthritis, was so painful at times.
Even my appointments that are a mere 30-45 minute drives without traffic, can become so uncomfortable. I’m grateful to have heated seats, they help. But they can only help so much.
The pandemic forced a lot of medical practices that were fighting the warm embrace of technology into a race against the clock. They rapidly adopted applications that had video conferencing technology. Almost every single one of my doctors uses a different program. Two of them share a program because their practices were bought by a hospital system.
My first virtual appointment
Have you ever heard the saying, “Be careful what you wish for, because you just may get it?” It feels fitting in this scenario. I asked for it and got it, but it has come with some detriments and hiccups.
For one of my first virtual appointments, I was stuck in the “lobby.” The doctor’s assistant called me from a line I didn’t recognize and I didn’t pick up. I was afraid I would kick myself out of the program. Eventually, my doctor called from his cell phone. The minute I saw his name pop up I knew there was a problem with the setup. We eventually got that straightened out.
I did my first few rheumatology appointments virtually and got labs performed in between. The labs came back stable, so the virtual check-ins felt justified. That is until I started experiencing random lower back, shoulder blade, and hip pain while walking. The new pain began a day or two after my summer virtual appointment.
When things began to fall apart
There is nothing more annoying than going to the rheumatologist’s office, having a great appointment, and falling apart the very next day. It felt equally annoying to experience this virtually.
I went through my physical checks and balances in regard to the pain and trying to figure out why it was happening. It became upsetting thinking that 3 appointments passed where my rheumatologist couldn’t view, touch, or test my joints. She has spotted issues before I was able to verbalize I was struggling with something.
Missing the in-person experience
My hip, shoulder blade, and lower back pain came on during different parts of a long walk around the neighborhood. The pain would dissipate for a while, but it would come back, especially if I went for a walk in the neighborhood.
I know the easy answer was to not go for a walk but not walking made other things hurt. After a couple of weeks of the pain, I sent an email to my rheumatologist. I noted how I felt fine during our virtual appointment, but this pain was increasing and I didn’t know what to do.
She ordered a round of x-rays and made our next appointment an in-person appointment. I was actually relieved. Despite apprehension for in-person appointments due to the virus numbers ticking up, at that point, I didn’t care. I went and did the x-rays and saw her a few weeks later.
More questions than answers
My x-rays were good, which gave me a certain level of peace of mind. At the in-office appointment, my rheumatologist was able to locate and feel the regions causing the pain. As with most things related to chronic inflammatory conditions, the reason for the pains remains a mystery. She advised me to stretch regularly and keep trying to move more.
Had the follow-up appointment been a virtual appointment, I think I would have left with more questions than answers.
What have your virtual appointments for psoriatic arthritis been like? Let us know in the comments below.
Do you have a sleep disorder (eg. insomnia, sleep apnea, RLS) in addition to your PsA?