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Let's Discuss...telephone and virtual medical appointments

Since the start of the pandemic have you experienced having a telephone or virtual medical appointment? Some people have shared that they have found these appointments more convenient others have shared these appointments can be hard to prepare for.

What has your experience been?
What tips would you suggest to someone having their first telephone or virtual appointment?
56 Replies
2 Posts
I have had 2 virtual consults with my oncologist. I do my bloodwork at an outside clinic a few days before appointment. I had a scan done in mid December as I requested, since nothing done since 2019. I have to sat, do not enjoy the virtual consults, prefer in person hands on visits. My tumour on bowel has not grown thankfully, I have follicular lymphoma so on a wait and see approach for treatments.
9 Posts
I've had a few telephone appointments. They are great because i do not have to physically leave the house. However, at times they are rushed and you sure have to have your ducks lined up (questions ready). Plus, they are at liberty to change the time (like today, my 10:15 was changed to a 12 - 3 pm window). It is easier for them to change appt. times if you are not coming in physically. it is also hard to show someone a wound through a computer screen!!!!

64 Posts
I don't care about phone appointment. Usually I don't remember what we talked about. I need either video if don't duzze out or in person. So I try to have someone in the area as second listener.
And the video has limitations. Medicine is hands on practice. How will you feel a mass through the phone or video
1543 Posts
I had a few virtual appointments during lockdown last year. Although I enjoyed not having to drive 45 minutes each way to my appointment, I did find that I felt somewhat disconnected with my care team. I also had to go to the community lab to get my blood work done and that was somewhat inconvenient for me and the results were not reported out the same as the lab at the cancer centre. I did find the calls were quite short and if I forgot something I wasn't sure of the process to call back and ask. The other challenge is that they give you a time, the doctor did not always call at that time - sometimes it was quite a bit later and one time it didn't happen until the next day. I do see the oncologist monthly, and they did offer to provide an in person visit every third time so that we can maintain that personal contact. Since last fall, I have been attending in person every month.

For me, the key to a successful telephone visit was to have a list of questions prepared ahead of time. This did help to keep me focused and not forget things. All in all not a bad experience, and it did bridge the gap during this pandemic.

I have had 2 phone consults over the past year following regular 6 month surveillance CT scans. Convenient, but I would have preferred a face to face meeting or video /zoom call instead given that I am still early in my recovery. One way I prepared is to send a detailed email update with any questions a few days before the appointment time so I did not forget anything and to use as a guide / notes during the call. My wife was also able participate in the call by speakerphone. Both went well. I understand the COVID protocols are to protect us all; however, I’m looking forward my next follow up to be in person!
47 Posts
I have had 2 or 3 phone appointments with my different Drs. Not the same but haven’t wanted to travel there during this pandemic. Agree with Freebird that you have to have everything in order and questions ready as appointments go quickly over the phone. As long as I don’t need to them Physically right now, I’m ok with that, plus I know I can go there at anytime if I feel they need to see me.
79 Posts
I’ve had both phone and in-person appointments. The in-person ones were to discuss a reoccurrence of my pancreatic cancer and it’s great that my oncologists have done it this way. My wife usually sits in the car and we call her on speakerphone. One time, when I moved to the radiation oncologist, she was allowed to be by my side. Routine progress meetings where done by phone, and that worked really well. The people at BC Cancer are amazing and so caring and will accommodate whatever they can or are allowed. I cannot be happier with the treatment I’m getting at their Surrey centre. One tip I wish I knew before is to prepare questions by writing them down, leaving space for the answer. One time, my wife and I heard different responses from the oncologist about my prognosis and it would have been great if I wrote it down immediately. Often difficult news is hard to process…my wife processes optimistically and I tend to go pessimistically. One wish I have it to go to video conferencing wherever possible. Then we don’t have to wear masks and can actually each other’s faces!
8442 Posts
Oh boy... dont even mention virtual anything to meI!!!! I thought my computer broke down....turns out it wasnt plugged in....talk about technologically challenged!!!!!! All joking aside,I've been lucky most of my appointments have been in person. My social worker talked to me on the phone.....other than that No virtual stuff.
54 Posts
I have had some virtual appointment. My experience with my GP and Radiation doctors threw me into virtual panic. The first said I had a cold and not to worry. I asked for An x-ray and it took months to get it booked. Finally I called my Thyroid doctor and asked for an X-ray. He booked one the next day. That is how I found out I had a large mass in my right chest. The Radiation doctor called just before Christmas and said she could do nothing for me. I was devastated and saw her call as a death sentence.
So now I refuse to have virtual calls from these two doctors. I try to see them on my Treatment visits.
I know others may view virtual calls as a way to avoid Covid contact. I commend you.
253 Posts
I have been very lucky. I have been released to the care of my GP. I have an option to do either phone appointment or in person. Since I have to travel 45 min to her office, I sometimes do a phone call and other times I will go in and see her. She never rushes the appointments, doesn't matter if it is face to face or a call. Love my GP.
I have had a couple of phone appointments. I prefer in person but this can work.

My main suggestion is to be ready with pen and paper.
36 Posts
  1. have had two telephone appointments with my urologist and my oncologist in the past year. I would have preferred face to face consultations because I am partly deaf and I find that my hearing aids do not work well with the telephone. As another option I would be happy with digital consultations using email , but I think that many doctors don't like email, although my family physician uses email with me. .I think that email is considered to be less secure than telephone so that could be a reason. I have tried snail mail which seems to be acceptable to my oncologist but not my urologist. Perhaps many doctors don't like to put their opinions in writing and I don't blame them, knowing that some people are eager to use litigation for the slightest reason. I'll be glad when the pandemic ends and we can get back to in-person consultations.
5 Posts
I was thankful for telephone and virtual appointments as it was better than no contact at all. It was strange getting my cancer diagnosis this way, but during this pandemic that was what happened. One benefit of not being in person is that I can have my list of questions beside me to refer to and I can write stuff down on the spot. When I'm in person I feel like I have to be fully focused on the Dr. and trying to remember everything that is said.
2 Posts
I have been having regular phone appointments throughout my treatment and I find them very convenient. I prepare by making a written list of questions a nd thing I want to raise.
14 Posts
Thankfully I have had no experience with virtual appointments. I don't agree with them either. I believe it's in the patients best interest to have in-person appointments.
120 Posts
My husband was recovering from a splenectomy (to see if that would raise his platelet count, nope) when covid lockdown hit. He required an appointment with a urologist one week in, that never happened.
the family doctor allowed me in to accompany my husband for a required visit. We always had luck with phone contact with the oncology team. Our cancer center only allowed him in and I was on video call during those appointments. What was really hard when it was decided he required emergency chemo and had to stay in the hospital for it for 5 days to watch for severe side effects.
When you have never missed an appointment as a caregiver/partner it is had to not be allowed in for support.
His team is good and readily at the other end of the phone when needed.
we make a list of questions and review the journal we keep prior to phone call appointments. Everything is documented in the journal as it is too much to keep in your head. My husband even says that last year is a blur. That sometimes is good that he does not remember how bad it was.
It will be nice to get back to in person appointments.

Be strong everyone.
Be safe.

64 Posts
I have had phone call appointments with three doctors during the past year. Although I generally prefer to see my doctors in person it has been fine for appointments where they are just going over test results. Luckily I had in person BC follow-up appointments with my GP and surgeon.
The virtual appointments do tend to be much quicker although, as previously noted, they do not always happen on schedule.
sgt. pepper
193 Posts
I have had two telephone appointments in the past year (follow ups every six months) and I find these to be unsatisfactory. I prefer to see my oncologist in person as he does a thorough physical exam and has noted problems in the past. My family physician is also in lockdown and the only reason I saw him in person was to provide an injection which can't be done over the phone obviously. I see my dermatologist every six months as it essential that this be done in person as I have had skin cancer. I had to fight for the latter appointments as they tried to do a phone assessment which is unacceptable to say the least. When will this end so we can be sure to get better medical treatment in the future?

Sgt. Pepper
143 Posts
I have had quite a mix of phone and in-person appointments. I, too, got the news that I had cancer over the phone, just after the first COVID lockdown started and my GP was only doing phone appointments. Luckily my surgeon and my oncologist both preferred to see people, so I only had phone calls with them if I needed a quick conversation between appointments. Like others, I had to go in alone so I prepared all my questions in advance so I wouldn’t miss anything. That’s important for either kind of appointment.

I dealt with a psychologist by phone for several months and I actually preferred that over in-person. My radiation oncologist was half-and-half and I have also had several phone appointments with a neurological oncologist. I did not like the phone appointments with these oncologists since the news was more complicated and harder to prepare for in advance. With brain fog it is harder to think on your feet and there was always something I missed.

My GP offers both and I am OK with phone calls for simple things or when no exam is needed.

Overall, I needed the in-person support of my cancer specialists - it felt like a lifeline. But I think there are times when phone appointments work best, and I can accept those. The bottom line is to prepare for any appointment as best you can and, when possible, have someone take notes and be a second pair of ears.
22 Posts
I find the telephone appointments (where available - i.e. where physical examination is not required) to be good because then it allows me to be able to note or jot down any questions and/answers on my laptop. Whereas the virtual medical appointments will not work for me due to my hearing and speech disability -- the sounds do not carry as well as the landline (even with the iPhone - the reception is not too good due to reception via WIFI and background noise). Since working from home and having to struggle with close captioning in virtual meetings, where possible I have requested for tel conversation to take place via my home landline (not even the office iPhone due to reception).
At end of day ... if no examination is necessary - would definitely opt for telephone appointments.
9 Posts
What I have found handy, in Toronto, is the use of MyChart and Pocket Health (which costs about $50) (part of University Health Network) which allows instant access to lab results and all DI scans as well as reports. It is quite handy and gives you a heads up before the MD calls to discuss results with you. Other hospitals offer similar services but you have to sign up on site, showing your health card.

39 Posts
I am caregiver to my husband. We have a Team of 8 Doctors. Virtual vs. In Person Doctor visits depends on what the visit is all about. Discussion of a CT Scan can be done Virtually. Our closest Doctor is an hour's drive from us so this has cut down on a lot of travel. Since last September we have travelling over 2 mountain ranges through snow packed and sometimes closed highways. No cell reception in places so a bit scary for this driver. He had treatments for his second 2 Year Trial in Vancouver every 3 weeks. A 6 hour drive from our home. This required Hotel stays and 2 days of just travelling. Then a day of Labs, Scans and Infusion. We saw the one Oncologist on these occasions. Our Family Doctor was a pet and would call at the end of the day while we were both preparing our dinners. He would review what all the other Doctors were saying and help bring it all together for us. I hope we can continue with the Virtual Visits. Travelling for repeat prescriptions was a pain.
Update: Renal Carsinoma that has metz in lungs, lymph and bone. The main tumor is growing exponentially. He has been taken off the Trial. Our next option is to remove the kidney and as much of the Primary tumor as they can get. However, he started bleeding a month ago and was in and out of hospital as the Doctors tried to stop the bleeding. They succeeded. However, now they are waiting for him to start bleeding again. Once that happens he will be ambulanced into Vancouver for the operation.
And so we wait. sigh. We are frightened about the operation. Will the operation "poke the bear" or will it buy him some more time? We pray for the latter.
This is a bit rambling but I want everyone here to know, that while I have not been participating very often, I have been listening to each of you and pray for everyone's comfort during these troubling times and this nasty road we are travelling.
Bless you all.
2272 Posts
Lacey_Moderator‍ Hello....
Virtual Medical Appts have Pros & Cons.
No parking Fees
No waiting in waiting room
No long commutes, aka being stuck in traffic
At times, difficult to "hear" Dr over the telephone
Dr can sound "muffled" and "Distant"
I am convinced I am on "Speaker Phone " a lot......others in office? room?
Gotta "Wait for the call" ! (still)

Tips for a successful Virtual Medical Call:
Write down your questions ! With the most important ones, at top of list......in case Dr is "in a rush"....you will be ensured to have asked, the pressing concerns.

Hope Covid Ends Soon!

58 Posts
I had two telephone appointments with my former radiology oncologist. I found that they were very brief and impersonal. As well, according to the oncologist, she was "unable to examine me." No doubt about it, I find in-person appointments much better, overall. The only advantage is there is no need for my husband to drive me to the telephone appointments (especially since gas is now so expensive).
Brock C
92 Posts
My post-colorectal cancer checkups don't seem to have been affected by the pandemic. They have occurred as per usual with all the precautions in place. Over the past year my appointments in Psychosocial Oncology have been over the phone. But they have always been brief, regardless of format: The doctor asks how I've been feeling then he prescribes something or changes a dosage. In and out, 10 min max. Next time, though, he wants to see me in person. I'm not concerned; we're doing pretty well in Québec.

That said, I always write a list of questions any time I see a doctor whether face-to-face or over the phone. Otherwise I'm too scattered and I tend to forget things.

My last appointment with my Oncologist was via the phone. First thing she did was hang up on me accidentally. The phone call wasn't bad, just brief. Maybe if it wasn't the last one, I would feel different. With my family Doctor, that's a different story. Most of the time, the reason why I am making an appointment with my family Doctor has been to get a prescription refilled. I personally like the phone calls for prescriptions. My medicine is either filled at my local pharmacy ready when I want to pick it up or it's mailed to me. So much easier. I hope the prescription phone calls stay that way and don't go back to in person. Once, I received a phone call by my family Doctor's office telling me that my family Doctor want's to see me. It was the only one that I went to see her rather then by phone call. It ended up being my 6 month check-up to look for recurrence. My Plastic Surgeon's appointments have been all in person, with a slight delay the one time. I am so glad that I got to see him. He's my favorite person to talk to even though he's the furthest location ( 60 to 75 minutes away)
1037 Posts
I have doctors appointments almost 2 or 3 monthly. (I have multiple doctors).
I find I sometimes lose track which are in person and which are not. My doctors request both in person and phone.
Some ways I find the phone appointments easier. But the calls are usually not on time. So I am always waiting for the doc to call. Sucks when they are very far behind, I begin to wonder if they forgot me.
In person thou, you get examined, sometimes I remember things to bring up easier. The docs are trapped with me till I'm done. lol.
Tips: Guess I should have a notepad to keep track of things.

I missed 2 phone consults, was in emerge at time of appointment.
The emerge does not necessarily send a record of your visit to your doctor unless they need a consult.
So I missed the last oncologist apt, and he's only aware of why since my emerge doc requested a second opinion on my CT.
Miss an appointment with the urologist and they bill you $100! Even a phone consult!
Was in emerge when I had to get discharged to go to radiation! Then more hassle to get readmitted to emerge!
Such a pain this covid.
7 Posts
Yes my appointments have all been virtual after bloodwork and to be honest it's causing me a lot of anxiety that I haven't been physically examined since I finished my chemo 7 months ago. I am currently doing immunotherapy. I had TNBC with a high chance of recurrence so I am very nervous about the lack of in person appointments and exams .
2 Posts
I have had virtual consults with my surgeon, oncologist and radiologist.
It was excellent for identifying what information was still needed ( by me) to make decisions.
It was not a successful way to bridge a gap in understanding with my otherwise empathetic and concerned oncologist. When we met in person a better understanding was achieved.
The appointments were convenient and I have no concerns about going forward with primarily phone call appointments.

1) have a list of questions and don't worry if they sound uninformed. If you knew as much as your specialist, they wouldn't be a specialist.
2) ask questions when you are not sure you understand the implications of what you are being told. More information can be asked for.
26 Posts
I agree with a lot of the responses here. I found phone appointments convenient because I could write down notes as they spoke. I didn't have to drive anywhere or find parking or wait in a waiting room.
Sometimes I found it hard to hear the oncologist, maybe it was their speakerphone, but I would just ask them to repeat what they said. I also found that if they were late for the call, I would start to think they missed my appointment or forgot about me...then the phone would ring.
For a checkup style appointment, I think it's great to have a phone call appointment. It's convenient.
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