Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Depression and Virtual Visits

>>>Click here to read all the posts in this series<<<

The last time I wrote a post in this series was two and a half years ago because I didn't think there was really anything else I could say on this subject. The emo header above makes me cringe but I don't want to bother with updating it!

Last year I started a new job and I heard it mentioned that their insurance covers virtual doctor visits. Most insurance plans may cover that now, I do not know, as I had never looked into it before. The idea of online doctor appointments is so life-changing to me, that I wanted to take some time to write about the many benefits, as well as my first experience with it.

It has been four years since I have been on antidepressants. Not because I haven't needed them, but because it was easier to not take them. In 2013, when I last decided that I needed to get back on antidepressants, I had a really tough time finding a doctor. At the time, I worked somewhere that not only made me horribly depressed, but they didn't have health insurance. I called a lot of doctor's offices before I found one that was accepting new patients on a sliding scale (the cost you pay is based on your income). Finding the right antidepressant for an individual involves a lot of trial and error. Whenever a higher dosage was needed, or a switch to a new medication, I had to wait weeks for the next available appointment there and take time off work to go. The constant ups and downs of being on and off antidepressants were just too much. It was easier to get used to feeling awful all the time, then it was to feel good for a while, and then feel awful again for weeks at a time. So, as you can imagine, when I heard about online doctor appointments, I was ecstatic. The idea that I could easily book an appointment without picking up the phone, and go to the appointment without leaving my house was amazing. When I went to my insurance provider's website for more information on virtual visits, they listed two websites where you could book an online doctor appointment: Doctor On Demand and Amwell.

I decided to go with Doctor On Demand. When you go to their website, you create an account, and then enter your insurance information. This allows the website to only bring up doctors who accept your insurance, and later in the process, let you know how much a doctor visit would cost you. You will then be brought to two options for an appointment: Medical or Mental Health. For a medical visit, you can select "See a Doctor Now" or "Make an Appointment." On a mental health visit, you will only be able to schedule an appointment or take an assessment. After I clicked to schedule a mental health appointment, it asked if I wanted to see a psychologist for "talk therapy" or a psychiatrist for "medication consultation and management." For both options, they display the length of appointments, as well as your cost (after your insurance). Upon clicking on which type of doctor you want a visit with, you can then either view the doctors available, or view appointment times. I clicked to view the psychiatrists available and it brought up eight doctors. For each doctor it displays their name, a photo, what type of doctor they are (MD, DO, etc.), the languages they speak, and a paragraph about their experience and education. Under each doctor, there is a link that says "View appointments" which lets you view a calendar with their open appointment times without leaving the list of doctors. After I had selected the doctor I wanted to see and my appointment time, I was given the chance to write a few sentences as to why I was making the appointment and then they had me fill out the standard mood survey for these types of appointments (how often I feel sad, anxious, etc.). Then I selected my pharmacy, and paid for my appointment. It was such an easy process and I had plenty of appointment options available for the same week.

Today I had my virtual visit with the psychiatrist I choose. If you cancel without 24-hour notice, you have to pay the full price of the visit, so, I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be able to get the technology to work. 15 minutes before my appointment, I logged into the website to test my equipment (it lets you check the speakers, mic, and camera separately before the appointment). I was confused because the website didn't have anywhere for me to click to "go to" my appointment and wait for the doctor to arrive. Usually, with video conferences, you can join the conference well in advance, and just wait for the other person/people to arrive. That is not how Doctor on Demand is set up. I waited until it got closer to my appointment and hoped that something would just pop up on the Doctor on Demand website. Thankfully it did! Five minutes before the scheduled time, a screen popped up on their website saying my appointment was starting soon. Two minutes before my scheduled time, it said that my doctor arrived, and there was a link that said: "Start Visit." This opened up what kind of looks like a loading screen that said my doctor was reviewing my chart. About a minute later, the video conference opened up between my doctor and me.

The first appointment with a psychiatrist is 45 minutes and followup appointments are 15 minutes. We spent most of the appointment going over my history with depression, what my life was like, what it is like now, and my experience with past antidepressants. Towards the end of the appointment, we discussed possible antidepressants for me to try, she confirmed the pharmacy that I had selected when I booked my appointment, and she sent my prescription over to my pharmacy. The only issue I had throughout the whole process (besides not being sure I was in the right place), was that I accidentally closed the webpage my doctor visit was happening in when I tried to look up my past medications! Fortunately, when I reopened the page my doctor was still there.

I am so excited about how much easier this whole process is. Not having to physically go to a doctor's appointment means that in the future, I could easily book an appointment on my 30-minute lunch break if I wanted to! The particular psychiatrist I chose even has night appointments, which will be even better.

You can read all my “Depression and…” posts by clicking here.

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