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Why Millions of Women+ Are Taking Advantage of Virtual Gynecology

Gynecology is so much more than pelvic exams and pap smears. Just ask someone with recurrent yeast infections or a chronic condition like PCOS. And while it used to be a requirement to show up in a doctor’s office for treatment, the pandemic drastically accelerated the adoption of virtual visits in Gynecology. The pandemic led regulatory bodies to expand virtual prescribing abilities, and health insurance plans to expand coverage of virtual services. It is still unknown whether this will continue post-COVID, and millions of women+ are taking advantage of this improvement to access while they can.

What Happens During a Virtual Gynecology Visit?

One advantage of a virtual Gynecology visit is the ability to fill out your intake “paperwork” from your computer or phone. Depending on the clinic and urgency of the visit, you may be able to do this several days prior to your visit. This can also be helpful for ironing out any insurance or payment questions as you can typically contact the clinic’s staff via email or a patient portal.

Video/Audio Visits

Because of strict laws on patient privacy (HIPAA) and the need to document notes from the visit, most Gynecologists use a secure, specialized telehealth platform to conduct video visits. Similar to a Zoom call, you may be asked to join a waiting room prior to your visit.

Once the call begins, you will likely be asked to confirm your identity or potentially show identification. Once this is complete, your doctor will proceed as usual, asking you questions about any symptoms, concerns, or your health in general.

Chat-based Visits

For straightforward concerns, such as a birth control pill prescription or UTI treatment, you may be able to complete your visit via chat. Most traditional doctor's offices do not offer this service, but there are several safe, reputable virtual clinics that do. Most of these clinics require you to complete a brief (10-15 minute) form, which is then reviewed by a licensed clinician remotely. A response from the clinician can take anywhere from a few minutes to 24 hours. If you are prescribed, many of these clinics will also mail your medication directly to your home.

What Kinds of Gynecological Concerns Can Be Addressed Virtually?

According to a report published by ACOG (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), the most successful uses of telemedicine in Gynecology are for:

  • Suspected vaginal infection: By describing your symptoms such as itching, unusual discharge, or burning, a Gynecologist is often able to diagnose a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or a UTI without a test, especially if you have had a confirmed case in the past
  • Prescription or renewal: Unless you have certain conditions, many types of birth control can be prescribed or renewed without an in-person visit
  • Consultation and planning for a suspected (or confirmed) pregnancy: Whether pregnancy was planned or unplanned, a Gynecologist can counsel you through your options and next steps. If required, they can also order a blood test to confirm the pregnancy, which you can complete at your local testing center
  • Discussion of period-related symptoms: Period symptoms, including pre-menstrual symptoms, can range from mild to severe. A Gynecologist can help you determine potential causes and remedies, or help you understand whether your symptoms are severe enough to warrant further examination and testing
  • Discussion of menopausal symptoms: A Gynecologist can propose treatments to relieve symptoms and prescribe medication if appropriate

Key Benefits of Seeing a Gynecologist Virtually

  • Access a specialist (in PCOS, endometriosis, etc.,) that may not be available in your area
  • Save money - typically virtual appointments are less expensive than in-person visits, even when using health insurance
  • Avoid missing school or work - traveling to an appointment adds time and expense to a visit
  • Feel more comfortable discussing sensitive topics - many patients report feeling more comfortable opening up about their sex lives and other health concerns from the comfort of their couch vs. an exam room

Key Limitations of Seeing a Gynecologist Virtually

  • You can’t have pap smear - Even if all of your pap smears have come back normal, it is still recommended you have one done every 3 years. This applies whether or not you’ve had any new sexual partners
  • You can’t have a pelvic exam  - If you are experiencing painful periods or sex, a Gynecologist may need to perform a physical exam of your lower abdomen and pelvis to rule out certain conditions
  • The doctor can’t collect your vital signs - During an office visit, a doctor or member of the staff typically collects your blood pressure, blood oxygen level, and may also listen to your heart
  • Blood work can’t be done during the visit - Many Gynecology offices are equipped to collect blood samples during your visit if needed. If a test is recommended during a virtual visit, you have three options:
  • Visit a doctor’s office
  • Visit a lab testing center
  • Order an at-home testing kit from a reputable laboratory (not available in NY)

FAQs About Virtual Gynecology

1. Do I have to show my vulva / vagina on camera?

Nope! That seems difficult anyway. However, if you have a suspicious rash, discharge, bump, etc., many providers have secure inboxes where you can send pictures to help with diagnosis.

2. Are telehealth visits recorded?

Because telehealth visits are subject to similar privacy laws as in-person care, clinicians generally do not record sessions. If a session were to be recorded, the clinician would first need your consent. Similarly, patients should not record sessions without consent. If you are concerned about documenting the visit, ask your clinician to make notes in your chart or take notes yourself.

3. Do I have to turn on my camera during a telehealth visit (for Gynecology)?

Many telehealth visits happen without video or even audio (chat-based visits). Telehealth visits without video are largely a result of relaxed regulations during the COVID pandemic. It is still unknown how these laws will change in the future. For now, you do not necessarily need to turn on your camera. However, providers are free to set their own policy on when video is required.

4. Can I safely talk about having an abortion during a telehealth visit?

Yes. If you have confirmed you are speaking with a reputable, licensed provider, your conversation is protected by patient privacy laws. This is true even in states where abortion is restricted. You cannot be prosecuted for speaking to a licensed clinician about abortion.

Find the Right Gynecologist in Minutes

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