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.
How do you plan to recognize PsA Awareness Month?