What to Know About Telehealth for Heart Failure

Heart failure isn't just a condition that can compromise the ability of your heart to pump blood. It can reduce the amount of oxygen and nutrients that blood delivers to every other organ system in the body. More than six million adults in America live with this condition.

Management of heart failure requires careful consideration of lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, and strict medication adherence. Eating too much salt, skipping a medication, or even overexertion for a day can tip the scales and lead you to an exacerbation of your condition.

People with heart failure therefore typically require a lot of healthcare services, such as periodic monitoring of their symptoms and review of their medications. Telehealth, which allows doctors to care for patients using communication tools such as smartphones, can help relieve some of that burden and even help improve your heart health.

Man talking with his doctor over his laptop

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When to Use Telehealth for Heart Failure

Managing heart failure can be time consuming and expensive. Appointments take time away from work and other obligations, costing you pay in addition to the amount of time needed to actually go to your appointments or buy medications.

Frequent visits may be required for heart failure, and your condition may be managed by a specialist—like a cardiologist—who isn't located in your community. You may want to consider telehealth as an option if you:

  • Have stable heart failure that is not worsening
  • Have no or few conditions that can complicate your heart failure
  • Live far away from your doctor or have trouble getting to appointments
  • Are at higher risk of becoming sick or injured by traveling to your doctor's office

Benefits and Challenges

One of the most immediate benefits of using telehealth to manage heart failure is time savings. Often, check-ins with your specialist are quick, and you can save yourself the time of commuting to the appointment, waiting to be seen, and personal time off from work.

Another benefit is improved care. Some evidence has shown that telehealth can actually improve outcomes for people with heart failure.

Ways that telehealth can help include:

  • Improving adherence to medication and treatment plans
  • Reducing travel time and cost to get to appointments
  • Reducing the risk of falls or injury for people with mobility problems
  • Providing early symptom recognition to prevent acute events or complications
  • Being able to involve other family members or people you want involved in your care
  • Allowing more frequent check-ins on lifestyle changes like diet and exercise modifications
  • Allowing providers to see your home situation and identify any challenges you have in accessing care or meeting treatment goals
  • Reducing exposure to infectious diseases
  • Helping doctors and patients establish more regular contact and allowing for timely interventions when conditions change

When to See a Doctor in Person

There are also times when a telehealth visit may not be enough for someone with heart failure. If you have no health insurance, you will likely have to pay out-of-pocket rates for your telehealth visits. However, in some cases, your self-pay cost for a telehealth visit may still be lower than a traditional office visit.

Also, technology can be difficult for some people to navigate. Not having a stable internet connection can also make telehealth visits frustrating or impossible.

You should not consider a telehealth visit if you suddenly develop or have worsening of any of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Limb swelling

These symptoms could be a sign that your condition has become more serious. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should go to the nearest emergency department or call 911.

How to Prepare for a Telehealth Visit for Heart Failure

If you are interested in using telehealth services to help manage your heart failure, you should first contact your cardiologist or healthcare provider to see if they offer services remotely. If your doctor doesn't offer telehealth services, you can ask for a referral to a provider who does offer telehealth services.

If your cardiologist offers telehealth services, you may be asked to use remote monitoring devices such as a heart monitor, pulse oximeter, or blood pressure cuff to record your vital signs. In some cases, information from these devices may be tracked and uploaded to your cardiologist daily to monitor your condition.

You will want to do some preparation before your first visit:

  • Understand the cost and who will pay for your visit
  • Find out what information your provider will want from you
  • Be aware of privacy and security measures in place to protect your health information
  • Find out what technology platforms and devices are used, and make sure you have the right tools in place

When it's time for your appointment to begin, you should treat it just as you would an in-person visit, with a few special considerations:

  • Find a private place for your appointment where there will be no distractions and you and your provider can focus on the visit.
  • Make sure there is plenty of light so the provider can see you clearly.
  • Be sure to have a list of your current health conditions and medications handy.
  • Be prepared to discuss any changes in your condition, new symptoms, medication changes, and other new information since your last visit.
  • Take note of any language or communication barriers that need to be addressed with an interpreter or other caregiver.
  • Check before the appointment to make sure your technology works, if there is a link or service for you to log on to at the appointment time, and that you understand how to connect with your provider.
  • Close extra windows or tabs to make sure the application you are using for your appointment works well.
  • Check to make sure you have a strong internet connection where you intend to take the appointment.
  • Be sure your battery is charged or your device is plugged in before your visit begins.
  • Keep the camera of your phone or computer at eye level during the appointment.
  • Wear loose clothing or make sure you can get access to whatever part of your body your provider may need to see during the appointment.
  • If you have home monitoring tools like a pulse oximeter or blood pressure cuff, keep those nearby during your appointment.

What Happens During the Visit

When you schedule a telehealth visit with your provider, you should be given instructions on how to log on and a link to use. You should be prepared to begin your appointment at the designated time. Here's what may happen next:

  • You may be prompted to go through checks of your video and audio connection.
  • Once your connection is confirmed, you will be placed in a virtual waiting room.
  • Be sure to tell your doctor about any major changes in weight, swelling, chest pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness.
  • If you have remote monitoring devices, the provider may ask you to use those to provide information like oxygen level, temperature, or blood pressure.
  • Your provider will then perform an exam, walking you through what they want you to do for the assessment. You may be asked to cough, breathe deeply, or zoom in on certain physical features or body parts.
  • When the assessment is complete, your provider should discuss a diagnosis with you and explain any treatments or follow-up that may be required,
  • At the end of the visit, your provider should issue a summary of their findings and recommendations, as well as prescriptions or other treatments that they have recommended.
  • Your doctor may also order additional testing that you need to get done before your next appointment, like an echocardiogram (echo) or electrocardiogram (ECG).
  • You should also be given instructions on what to do if your treatment doesn't resolve your problems, what to do if your symptoms get worse, and when to schedule your next appointment.

A Word From Verywell

Heart failure is a chronic, progressive disease that can be difficult, time-consuming, and costly to manage. People with heart failure generally have to spend a lot of effort managing their condition or spend a lot of time dealing with hospitalizations and exacerbations. As more people use telehealth and payment for these services by insurers improves, remote care through telehealth can help reduce the burden people with heart failure face when it comes to managing their condition.

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Article Sources
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  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Helping patients prepare for their telehealth appointment. Updated: March 9, 2021.