For 35-year-old Chicago-based community activist Jo MaMa, attending their doctor appointments used to be a nightmare. At the time, Jo wasn’t comfortable with their HIV status being public. When Jo went to the doctor in-person, they felt they ran the risk of seeing someone they knew and compromising their privacy. As a result, Jo would experience severe anxiety when at the clinic and needed constant communication and support from a friend through text messages to make it through their appointments.
However, since the start of the pandemic, most of Jo’s appointments have moved online to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure. Switching to online appointments has been a relief for Jo and means that aside from occasional in-person visits to run labs and have their vitals checked, they can communicate with their doctors safely and securely over Zoom from the comfort of their own home.
“[Having doctor’s appointments at home] is extremely confidential, just you and whoever your [provider] is, and that was a big win for me,” Jo said.
Jo’s Zoom doctor appointments are a result of an executive order that Gov. J.B. Pritzker passed in response to COVID-19. This order expanded telehealth services for all Illinoisians, meaning that Illinois residents could access medical care, mental health care, substance use care and case management services virtually, through phone calls, FaceTime, or Zoom video calls like Jo is doing.
Currently, AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) is partnering with the statewide Coalition to Protect Telehealth, the Illinois Health and Hospital Association and other community partners to advance HB3498. If enacted, the legislation would make telehealth services permanently available in Illinois.
“I’m just grateful for the entire new system [of using telehealth services],” Jo said. “The efficiency is a big highlight for me.”
Even though Jo is no longer concerned about keeping their HIV status private, Jo said telehealth services have provided additional benefits including saving time and money from fewer commutes to and from their doctor appointments.
It has also decreased wait times that Jo previously experienced when visiting their doctors in person. Previously, Jo prepared to wait for up to two hours at the clinic before finally getting to see their doctor. The longest Jo has had to wait on Zoom is five minutes.
Although adjusting to change can be hard, some changes can prove to be positive. Despite being unsure about telehealth at first, Jo quickly adjusted and found them to be a wonderful resource. Moving forward, Jo wants to keep having appointments over Zoom even after it’s safe to meet in person.
“Now that it’s set up, I hope that it does stay because I find it helpful,” Jo said. “I love it!”
If you’d like to join Jo in advocating for the permanent expansion of telehealth services, call or email your state legislator and ask them to support HB3498, the legislation that would ensure permanent access to health care through telehealth. To find out who your state legislator is, click here.