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Virtual appointments and how to make the most of them

One key change in blood cancer care since the start of the coronavirus pandemic has been the shift from face-to-face to virtual appointments.

virtual appointment woman at home

This change has been led by necessity. So is it a case of making the best of it until we get through the coronavirus pandemic? Or will this change the way we interact with healthcare professionals forever?

We share the findings of research at Oxford University Hospitals into cancer patients’ experiences of virtual consultations. We also list our ambassador Paul Carless’s top tips for successful virtual appointments and offer support if you’re missing face-to-face contact with your healthcare team.

Positive experiences in Oxford

Oxford University Hospitals recently ran a survey about the Attend Anywhere video call platform, which is widely used across the NHS. This received 119 responses from haematology and oncology patients. The results were strongly positive:

  1. Most people liked the way it saved time, travel, expense and disruption to their daily lives.
  2. It meant someone who couldn’t normally attend, such as a relative based far away, was able to be involved.
  3. People felt more relaxed having appointments in the comfort of their own home.

More than half the people surveyed felt that a video call was as good as a face-to-face consultation, and the vast majority were happy to do it again. However, problems with poor internet connection meant that things didn’t always go to plan, and phone calls sometimes had to be used as a back-up.

Another key finding was that despite the positive feedback, people still wanted the option of a face-to-face appointment when they felt they needed it. But overall, Attend Anywhere has worked well for patients and healthcare professionals at the trust, and will continue to be used in a post-COVID world.

People would not like to think that face-to-face appointments are a thing of the past. But for some people in some situations, online appointments are perfect.

- Dr Catriona Gilmour Hamilton, Haematology Quality Manager: Patient Experience & Engagement, Oxford University Hospitals

Paul’s top tips for a successful virtual appointment

Blood Cancer UK ambassador Paul Carless, who is living with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), has been having virtual consultations with his clinical team since March. He gives his top tips for making virtual appointments work for you:

  1. Make sure you know what to expect. Read any instructions you’ve been sent and get familiar with what you’ll need to do on the appointment day.
  2. Choose where you will sit and check you have a good Wi-Fi or phone signal. There might be certain rooms in your home where it’s better. With Wi-Fi, it can help to sit close to your Wi-Fi router, or even plug your device into the router directly using an ethernet cable.
  3. Think about where you will position yourself. Don't sit with a window behind you, as you’ll be harder to see. Make sure there is enough light on your face so your clinical team can see you. Sit somewhere quiet and try to make sure you won’t get interrupted.
  4. Before your appointment, have a glass of water or cup of tea ready. Have a notepad and pen with you, and anything else you might need or want.
  5. Send any questions or concerns you have to your clinical team in advance, if you can. Then you can relax a bit knowing you’ve helped to set the agenda. Or have your questions written down before the appointment, so you don’t forget to ask anything.
  6. Be honest and clear about any side effects or worries you have – it’s not as easy on screen for your healthcare team to see how you are, so make sure you tell them.
  7. Take notes during your appointment, so you remember what was said. You might find this easier at home than in a face-to-face appointment.
  8. Try not to worry if you have technical problems like a bad internet connection. Your team can always switch to a phone call if need be. It might help to ask them in advance what the back-up plan is if your internet drops out – check they have an up-to-date phone number for you.

Your healthcare team is still there for you

Just remember that even if you’re not seeing your healthcare team in person, they still want to know if you have worries, questions, or your symptoms change – keeping you well is their priority.

  • Make sure you have a phone number or email address to contact your healthcare team. They can still give you the same support as before, just in a different way.
  • Although you might feel like you’re on your own, remember that you manage your condition yourself all the time outside of appointments. Just make sure you tell your healthcare team about any change in your symptoms or side effects, and send them questions if you have them.
  • If you really feel you need a face-to-face appointment, ask for one. It might be possible.

Get support with virtual appointments

This is a new way of doing things, so it’s completely understandable if you find virtual appointments challenging. But make sure you tell someone – your healthcare team will want to know what’s not working so they can help you make the most of your time with them.

Other people with blood cancer may have good advice or tips. Join the conversation on our online forum.

You can also talk to us about any questions or worries you may have. Contact our Support Services Team on 0808 2080 888 or [email protected]

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