How to Prepare For a Virtual Visit With Your Oncologist

Medically Reviewed By: David Dougherty, MD, MBA, and Andrew Wagner, MD, PhD

The number of patients having virtual visits (or telehealth visits) with their doctors and other healthcare providers has skyrocketed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Providers at Dana-Farber and other hospitals are committed to delivering exceptional care throughout the pandemic, whether via in-person appointments or virtual appointments if appropriate for you.

Here are two things you should know right off the bat about telehealth appointments:

The decision to have virtual visits should be a joint one made between you and your doctor.

While appointments requiring an extensive physical exam should always be done in person, other appointments, such as general check-ups with your oncologist or a tutorial on oral chemotherapy, can be managed virtually.

“Once you become comfortable with virtual visits, you can feel just like you’re in the clinic — while in the comfort of your own home,” says Andrew Wagner, MD, PhD, associate chief medical officer at Dana-Farber.

Remember that you’re still receiving expert care — with the added benefit of increased safety during the pandemic.

Wagner and other Dana-Farber physicians say that their remote interactions with patients have been excellent — especially when they include video conferencing.

“The level of interaction and intimacy is remarkable when you can look directly into the eyes of a patient,” says David Dougherty, MD, MBA, medical director of the Dana-Farber Network, which consists of satellite facilities and partnering physician practices outside Boston.

Here are some recommendations from Dougherty and Wagner on how you can make the most of your telehealth visits:

Make time for practice.

Before your first virtual visit, get comfortable with the process. Contact your oncologist’s office for any necessary instructions, and if there is software needed, download it to make sure it’s compatible with your operating system. Then have a practice call with a friend to confirm that your computer and internet connection are running okay and that you can hear and see each other well.

Take a few minutes beforehand to gather your thoughts.

When you come to an in-person visit, you have time during your commute and while in the waiting area to gather your thoughts before seeing your oncologist. Do the same in advance of your telehealth appointment; leave five or 10 minutes for quiet contemplation beforehand. Think of it as your virtual waiting room.

Come prepared.

In advance of your call, write down any questions, concerns, or new symptoms that have emerged since you last saw your oncologist. Have your medications with you as well; many patients forget to do this when they come to the clinic, but it’s very helpful for physicians to be able to ask specific questions about your meds including dosage and ingredients.

Bring loved ones along — including a designated notetaker.

It’s always great to have someone with you at an appointment to lend insights and emotional support, and with virtual visits this is easier than ever. Whether your loved one is seated beside you or joins the appointment by Zoom or telephone, they can be part of the conversation. If possible, recruit a person to take notes during the appointment and then debrief with you after it. If you need one, we can also arrange for an interpreter.

Sign up for Partners Patient Gateway (if you’re a Dana-Farber patient).

Dana-Farber patients using this free online resource will soon be able to launch video telehealth appointments directly from it. Partners Patient Gateway allows you to access notes from your clinic visits, see your lab and imaging results, check on upcoming appointments, complete questionnaires, and send non-urgent messages to your care team. It’s great to have at your fingertips during a virtual visit.

Try it with the rest of your care team.

Other members of your care team are also using virtual visits to meet with patients. It’s great to use for oral chemotherapy training from your nurse navigator, to go over your medications, or have a nutrition or social work consult.

View Comments (2)

  1. Mark J Traverse

    I had an appointment with my oncologist last week to review my blood tests and Cat Scans. The meeting was just one click on the Patient Gateway and it felt like we were meeting in person plus parking was free and no tolls nor gas!

  2. Richard Rothwell

    I’ve read these instructions, and understand them. My wife Geri will join me during the session.

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