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Remote consultations - the new normal?

MS Helpline Nurses

Jennifer and Razia, the nurses on our MS Helpline look at how you can get the most from your MS team appointments during and after COVID-19.

Since COVID-19 began, you might've had appointments, tests and treatments delayed or cancelled. And as the NHS is trying to adapt and deliver care safely, remote appointments are becoming more common. This is a new approach for both NHS staff and people with MS. So if you’re offered one, how can you get as much out of a remote appointment as a face-to-face one?

Video or phone appointment?

If a face-to-face meeting isn’t possible, your MS team should let you know how you’ll be contacted for a remote appointment. It’s normally by phone or video call. It’s important to arrange which is best for you.

If you don’t have equipment like a laptop or smart phone or you’re not sure how to use video call, make sure your team know this. Maybe a straightforward phone call would work better.

If you’re going to have a video call and it’s the first time you’ve tried it, have a practice first. Maybe ask family or a friend to talk it through and test it with you.

If the appointment is over the phone, remember that calls from hospitals might come up as an anonymous number. If you’ve got a block on anonymous calls, you’ll need to remove this so they can get through for the appointment.

And give yourself time to prepare before the appointment. Find a quiet area in the house where you’ll have no distractions and make sure any wifi or phone signal you need is working.

Oh, and be prepared that there may be some delays. The remote clinics might be very busy and this is a new way of working for most of us.

You don’t have to be alone on the call

You might want to have someone with you for support and to take notes. Make sure you can use speaker phone so they can listen in and take part if you need them to.

Having someone with you can be handy any time, but might be especially helpful if you’ve have been having tests and you’re expecting a diagnosis in the consultation.

And if you need anyone to help you communicate or want a translator, discuss this before your appointment so your nurse or consultant can arrange it.

Keep notes for your remote consultation

To help give the MS team a clearer picture of what you discuss, note down in advance things like side effects of medications and symptoms you’ve had. Details help too – like dates and times, any known triggers for symptoms, or how long they lasted. You might find it helpful to keep a diary of symptoms or use an app to track symptoms in between appointments.

It might also be helpful to have a list of questions prepared that are important to you. List them in order of importance to make sure you get to the most important ones even if you run out of time in the consultation. If you feel that the appointment was too short, and you have more questions, ask for a follow-up appointment.

Make notes in the appointment

For each appointment, have paper and pen ready in case you want to make notes. Or, if that's not easy - you could make a voice recording of the consultation for your own records. Check this is ok with your MS team before your appointment.

If you're newly diagnosed or in the process of starting on disease modifying treatments, you might have a conversation about different the options there are For example, you might need a note of the names of medications they suggest. You can ask questions about where to find more information, and who to contact once you’ve decided.

Ask about jargon

Don’t be afraid to ask for any medical jargon to be explained. You want to get the most out of the time you have with your MS team and have it clear in your mind what’s been discussed. Before the appointment finishes, make sure you know what the next steps are.

Remote appointments are here to stay

Remote appointments look like they’re here to stay for the foreseeable future. Of course there are pros and cons to these types of appointments. One of the main issues is that physical examinations can’t happen over the phone or video call. And any tests and investigations, like MRI scans, would still have to be carried out at hospital.

But remote appointments can be more convenient. They can be quicker, done in the comfort and safety of your own home, and without the need to travel far. And for now, they offer a chance to still have consultations with the MS team, despite COVID-19.