IF YOU HAVE A smartphone or laptop and access to the internet, you may have already experienced a virtual visit with a physician to seek treatment for a common ailment such as allergies, the flu or diaper rash. Imagine having that same convenient access to your epilepsy specialist. For some patients and their doctors, this is already a reality.
When 4-year-old Ben Winterhalter required a follow-up visit two years after undergoing epilepsy surgery at Cleveland Clinic, his parents scheduled a virtual visit. From 400 miles away, they connected with his epilepsy specialist by video conference through a secure online connection.
His mother saw the virtual visit as a positive experience. “It was a great opportunity for us to speak face-to-face with our doctor without the added cost and inconvenience of driving out of state for the appointment,” Mrs. Winterhalter explains. “We were able to fit the visit into our schedule so Ben didn’t miss school and my husband didn’t have to take off work.”
Clearly, virtual visits can overcome significant geographic and transportation barriers and facilitate care. Many areas have limited in-person access to epilepsy specialists, requiring families to drive long distances or spend hours on public transportation for a 20-minute visit. By eliminating the need for transportation, parking, waiting and missed work, virtual visits can save both time and money.
Currently, however, the cost of virtual visits is still an issue in some areas. Not all states have laws requiring public and private insurers to cover payment for virtual visits in the same way as for in-person care, and in these states, patients and families may be required to pay out-of-pocket. Most centers keep the cost as low as possible, usually in the range of $49 to $75 for a virtual follow-up visit, but for some families, this remains unaffordable.
Even though Ohio is one of the states without legislation requiring insurance coverage, the epilepsy specialists at Cleveland Clinic already take part in over 100 virtual visits each month – and that number is growing rapidly. For families, the benefits include more convenient access to ongoing care. For doctors, virtual visits offer a way to expand their services and care for patients who live at a distance. It’s rewarding to lower barriers to consistent care for our patients and alleviate some of the stress of living with epilepsy.
Some patients may be concerned about losing the personal relationship with their doctor by seeing him or her virtually. The truth is that with today’s technology, conversations by video conference are very natural. Mrs. Winterhalter said she felt comfortable conversing across the video platform and would definitely recommend virtual visits to other families. “It was easy to speak with our doctor virtually because we already had a relationship with her,” she says. “For Ben’s first visit, we were glad to be there in person, but for the follow-up visit, virtual was ideal.”
If you or a loved one are experiencing epilepsy, you may want to ask your doctor about virtual visits. To get the most out of your virtual session, be prepared to update your doctor on any recent seizures, medication side effects or changes in your treatment plan. As with any medical encounter, communication is key. Be sure to ask your doctor questions until all your concerns have been addressed.
By Elaine Wyllie, M.D., Contributor