An Introduction to Telemedicine and How it Might Work for You

Recently, my husband became ill. I’m a nurse, and if you know anything about nurses, we don’t like to run to the doctor unless we are absolutely sure this is necessary. Just ask my kids.

His illness began the evening prior when we ate with some friends. We all shared the same food, and no one else got sick, so we both figured he had just picked up a bug.  He was up much of the night with diarrhea. What struck me most was the odor of the diarrhea.

He was feeling pretty poorly in the morning, so I asked him not to get up without me. He ran to the bathroom and when returning to bed he passed out and fell. I was able to buffer the fall with my body, but I knew at this point he needed medical attention, and called our primary care physician. No appointments were available even though I pleaded with them to squeeze him in. They suggested either urgent care or the ED, and since neither of us wanted to spend the day in the ED, we opted for urgent care.

At urgent care, I carefully provided the signs and symptoms of abdominal pain, diarrhea, and a new temperature of 101. And, I noted the awful smell of the diarrhea. Stool cultures were obtained and prescriptions for blood work were ordered, which necessitated us driving to a local laboratory, and more expense. We were told that we’d receive a call with the test results and were sent home with a prescription for Bactrim. Hmmm, Bactrim isn’t usually prescribed for food poisoning, which is what I suspected he had, but I’m not a doctor so what do I know, right?

We then went to Vermont where we were meeting friends for the weekend. I knew he’d need to be in bed, but I didn’t want to miss my friends who had driven 10 hours to see us. As evening arrived, no call ever came from the urgent care doctor and he was getting worse by the minute. In fact we never heard anything from urgent care.

I checked his temperature again and it was almost 105!! I knew we were in trouble, but what should I do? I was literally walking in circles in the house. We’re from New York and have no doctor in Vermont, and had no idea where the hospital was. With no other options, I called 911. I had packed him in ice, so I got his temperature down to 102. The paramedics were wonderful, and gave me directions to the hospital. We spent the entire night in the ED under the care of a very competent physician. More stool cultures were done, and a CT to determine the cause of the now bloody diarrhea. We were discharged on different antibiotics and instructed to see a GI specialist immediately because the entire colon was now inflamed. About two days later we were notified by the ED doctor that he definitely had food poisoning and that the antibiotics he was taking would take care of the infection, which they did.

What an experience!

What could have made this go more smoothly?

So, what could have made this ordeal go more smoothly? And, what would have cost much less? Even with out-of-network insurance, we had a lot of out-of-pocket expenses.

The answer could have been telemedicine.

“Telemedicine is the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status.” (American Telemedicine Association, 2012)

Mobile Health
© Seraphim Vector/Dollar Photo Club

I could have simply picked up the phone and spoken to a physician or a physician’s assistant, provided them with the signs and symptoms and they probably would have “talked me off the ledge” and told me go to the ER. In this case, since my primary care physician wasn’t available, the ER was probably the best option. In other cases, like poison ivy, ear infections, yeast infections, pink eye, vomiting, bronchitis, allergies, the telemedicine doctor would diagnose and treat over the phone. Telemedicine provides 24 hour/365 days a year availability!

The telemedicine group that I was recently introduced to can diagnosis and treat over the phone and provides education and answers to healthcare questions via email. They can Skype™, and there is much more that they can do. I’m encouraging all of you to investigate this option either for your business as a benefit of employment, or personally for you or your entire family. The cost may vary, but from what I have found, it’s less than $15/month for a family to have access to the service!

By the year 2020, the telemedicine market is anticipated to reach $34 billion dollars!

I’m signing up. What about you?

I’ll provide more information about telemedicine later this month in my next post. Stay tuned…