Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are reluctant to get in-person health care, for fear of being exposed to the virus or unknowingly spreading it to others. As a result, an increasing number of health care providers are offering telehealth options or are offering more services via their existing telehealth setups than they were before.
When you first consider telehealth, you might wonder: When do I actually need to go see a provider in person? Well, that’s a really good question! Because, while telehealth is great for a lot of things, it’s not great for everything. It’s a perfect option for things like getting started on birth control or renewing a birth control prescription, getting tested and treated for STIs, and even getting treatment for UTIs and vaginal infections. But there are going to be times when you really do need to physically be in the doctor’s office in order to get the best health care possible.
Here are five times you’ll need to get health care in person:
1. To get an IUD, an implant, or the shot (or to remove an IUD or implant)
There are plenty of birth control options that you can start via telehealth, like the ring, the patch, and the pill. There are plenty of others that don’t require you to see a provider at all to get started on them (think condoms, internal condoms, spermicide, fertility awareness methods and withdrawal). But to get an IUD, an implant, or the shot, you do need to see a provider in person. And you’ll need to see a provider to have your IUD or implant removed. Keep in mind there is also a form of the shot, called SubQ Depo, that you can give yourself at home. It’s a smaller needle that just goes under your skin rather than into a muscle. But for the regular shot, Depo-Provera, you’ll need to see a provider in person.
2. To treat a recurring or difficult-to-treat infection
It may seem hard to believe, but it’s totally possible to be tested and treated for STIs via tele-health. You can also get treatment for UTIs, yeast infections, and bacterial vaginosis. But if you’re dealing with an infection that didn’t go away with treatment or that went away then came back, it’s probably time to go see a provider in person to make sure you’re treating the right thing with the right medications. Also, if you’ve never had a UTI or vaginal infection before, it’s generally better to go in person for diagnosis and treatment.
3. For most abortions
If you need an abortion, you will most likely have to go to a health care provider in person. However, there is a study underway called “TelAbortion,” which is available to people living in certain states, and will mail you the abortion pill. Just The Pill, which is available in Minnesota, also provides the abortion pill via telehealth.
4. For your Pap smear
A Pap smear is a test in which a provider collects some cells from your cervix to check for any cell changes that could lead to cervical cancer. It’s currently not something that can be done via telehealth services (though Nurx does offer home testing for HPV, the virus that increases your risk of developing cervical cancer).
For most people, a Pap smear is recommended every three years, but depending on your individual risk level and whether you’ve had an abnormal Pap smear in the past, you may need to get one more frequently. Talk to your provider about how often you should be getting Pap smears. If you’re due for one and are nervous about going for an appointment because of COVID-19, ask your provider whether waiting to get a Pap smear until there is a COVID-19 vaccine is an option for you.
5. To diagnose certain conditions, like PCOS or endometriosis, that require more extensive testing
Telehealth can be a great way to manage a chronic condition, as it allows you to check in with your provider regularly about medication dosages and symptoms. But being diagnosed with some conditions, like PCOS, endometriosis, or fibroids, will require a trip (or, more likely, several trips) in person to a provider for pelvic exams, blood tests, ultrasounds, and in the case of endometriosis, possibly exploratory surgery, all of which require that you be physically present with a provider.
If you have ongoing symptoms of one of these or another chronic condition, starting with a telehealth appointment is a good idea. Your telehealth provider can then let you know if you need to go in person to get checked out.
The bottom line is that going to see a health care provider while never leaving your couch is awesome, but sometimes you still have to put pants on and go in person. And that’s okay, because telehealth and in-person health care go together like condoms and lube.