Articles Healthcare Telehealth

A Virtual Primary Care Doctor

It was 2015, and I moved to Portland, Oregon, within my Kaiser Permanente medical group to get involved in their telemedicine program. It wasn’t until 3 years later when I learned about the importance of a virtual primary care doctor.

Given the option, I would rather see my patients in person. But our exceedingly connected world requires us to be in multiple places at the same time, which shouldn’t mean we have to sacrifice our health. I would rather have my patient see me virtually than not at all.

No matter who you see virtually, it should never be an anonymous doctor. The empowered patient should choose a physician they know and understand and someone who they can research to ensure they are the right person to manage one’s health.

Connecting With Patients Virtually

As a virtual primary care doctor, I am a click away, and I can connect with patients in any way they like. Some prefer text, others prefer phone calls, and others prefer video chat.

There is always a bit of formality in the first couple of years, so patients prefer a more formal appointment over video. But as time goes by, as we get to know each other better, I get texts, audio messages, and quite a few emojis.

Perhaps the world is still getting used to connecting with their doctors virtually, but whether we like it or not, it’s how medicine is evolving.

Virtual Care vs. a Physical Appointment

When asked about a virtual medical appointment, most people imagine their standard office visit virtualized. But that would be terrible—imagine having to wait on hold for the appointment, wait for the actual appointment, then wait in the waiting room, wait for the doctor to step into the exam room, and then wait for you to get your tests done and be discharged.

Fortunately, a virtual visit with a virtual primary care doctor is nothing like the scenario above. In fact, my patients don’t have to wait on me or my clinic in any way.

They make their appointments online and we connect when they are ready. We text, call, or video chat about their health, create a plan, and arrange a follow-up.

My patients don’t have to interact with anyone else but me. I’m the front desk, nurse, scheduler, biller, and physician all in one.

The Virtualist Doctor

Because I don’t have to worry about a physical location, I have fewer distractions. There are no rooms to navigate, and there are no parking spaces to wait for.

I’m often in the comfort of my own home, and my patients are well situated wherever they are. In fact, I like it when they can squeeze me in between other appointments or errands.

As a virtualist doctor, I can do an exam wherever the patient is, and I can get a great history because the patient isn’t in a strange environment.

We doctors like it when our patients feel relaxed and are more likely to be vulnerable. This allows for a level of honesty that you don’t always get in traditional medical practice.

Being a virtualist, I’m also an expert at making my patients feel comfortable over a phone or video call. We get to have a bit of a chit chat, and any gaps in our conversation can be filled with follow-up text messages.

Messages Are Welcome!

In an office-based setting, your appointment starts when you step into the exam room and ends once you leave the building. Unfortunately, sending messages to your doctor or calling the office with questions is considered a nuisance. Some offices, in fact, will insist on a follow-up appointment for such interactions.

As a virtual primary care doctor, all of my interactions are virtual; emails, text messages, phone calls, video messages, audio files, documents, and home monitoring data are what I eat and breathe.

I get to have conversations with some patients daily. The morning text is about how they slept, how the cold is doing, and whether their last exercise caused them the same vertigo as before.

Primary Care – The First Point of Contact

In the US, seeing your primary care doctor as the primary point of contact isn’t really possible. Patients have to call the front desk, schedule an appointment, and often wait a few weeks before being seen.

In my practice, my patients send me text messages or call me. I pick up the phone or text back. That’s how I like to practice primary care medicine.

If they have a medical emergency, of course, they will call 911. But once they are being evaluated, I am on a speaker phone taking notes on everything happening.

Building a Bond … Forever

At 45 years old, my patients can hopefully depend on me to be there for them for another three decades or so. I only take on patients with whom I can grow old because even if they change jobs, move to another country, or lose their health insurance, I’ll still be there for them.

I don’t work with any insurance company and not attached to any employment plan. My patients and I contract together directly, so I am where they go.

When I get to know my patients over such a long time, it’s much easier for me to advocate for them and understand how they like their health managed. It’s an incredibly important bond to form with your patient.

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