When Care Goes Virtual: The Surprising Benefits of Video Visits

One thing Jillian Worth, MD, ABFP, can count on with teenage patients is their hesitancy to talk about serious subjects in the exam room. For teens coping with mood disorders, typical in-person appointments can feel artificial and discourage conversation. When the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly replaced office visits with video sessions, Dr. Worth noticed something remarkable: her young patients were opening up like never before.  

“What I’ve seen is kids on virtual visit in their bedrooms are more likely to talk about what they’re feeling, in the space where they have those feelings,” says Dr. Worth. “They’re willing to jump right into what they’re struggling with, instead of needing lots of warm-up.”

Another big benefit of video for young patients is flexible scheduling. Arranging an in-person appointment can delay care, when a quick video check-in has the power to turn things around for a teen. Adding a 15-minute virtual visit to the end of her day, says Dr. Worth, is much more doable than a regular visit, and takes care of the patient’s problem when it’s happening.

As a family medicine physician, Dr. Worth sees patients of all ages and backgrounds and surprisingly, video visits have proven beneficial across her diverse practice. Instead of having a patient seated in an exam room, video can offer a little window into their world, revealing the important objects, pictures and even people in their lives.    

“With longtime patients, at some point you stop asking social history questions, like who they live with,” says Dr. Worth. “But maybe you’ll see a grandkid running through the room on video and ask about them, and find out that family has moved in.”

Dr. Worth has discovered that asking her patients new questions that come up through video can lead to better patient care. Patients light up, she says, because they want to tell you more about who they are. They can also feel comfortable enough in their homes to admit problems they’ve never considered discussing in the office. If a patient reveals they feel unsafe in their relationship, for example, the care plan can include steps to address the situation.  

For elderly patients, occasional home visits can be a necessity, but before the pandemic they were usually limited to severely ill and homebound patients. Now that Dr. Worth sees most of her older patients on video, she looks out for them in new ways, such as noticing something in their environment that needs attention.

“I can have them pan around the room and see they have a loose area rug, or a dangerous step going down to their living room,” Dr. Worth says. “Maybe they use a walker and there’s a little dog running underfoot. Things I would never have known from an office visit.”

Then there are the patients who struggle more than others to even get to a provider’s office. Chronic conditions that involve regular appointments for care or medication management can be a challenge for those with debilitating illness, or for those who can’t get time off work. Visits using a patient’s smart phone can happen on a work break. People dealing with chronic pain can avoid a car trip and navigating a medical office building.

Another way virtual care boosts more equal access is the prevalence of smart phones across a diverse patient demographic. “It’s difficult for many working families to get themselves or their kids in for care, but most people have some version of a smart phone,” says Dr. Worth. “The flexibility and the capability of video on their device means they can hop on for a visit wherever they are.”

What’s clear is being able to see a patient when a visit might otherwise not have happened can change the course of illness and recovery. One elderly patient became bedridden and was considering hospice care. A family member held up her phone for a virtual visit with Dr. Worth from the patient’s bed.

“To see her in the office would have been impossible, but I was able to observe how it felt for her when she tried to move around,” says Dr. Worth. “I could see her pain and talk with her. Now we’ve got her in physical therapy at home and I see her sitting up in the living room.”  


Jillian Worth, MD, ABFP, is board-certified in Family Practice and currently practices at the Virginia Mason Bainbridge Island Medical Center. Dr. Worth specializes in family medicine, primary care, pediatrics, preventive medicine and transgender health.

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