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California doctor navigates telemedicine for coronavirus

Dr. Eugene Gu started his telehealth tobacco cessation company in January of 2020, but he's switched gears for now to help potential coronavirus patients

MINNEAPOLIS — When Dr. Eugene Gu from Los Angeles launched his telemedicine smoking cessation company CoolQuit on January 1st of this year, he wasn't expecting to cross paths with the coronavirus.

"Originally what we were doing was fighting the tobacco epidemic," Gu said. "We wanted to do what we can as physicians to fight that."

Then as 2020 progressed, Gu heard a different calling.

"We were already fighting a respiratory disease [caused by] tobacco and it was perfect to fight another very sinister respiratory disease, the coronavirus," Gu explained. "So now we're actually screening patients through telemedicine, if they have any flu-like symptoms that they're worried about that could be the coronavirus."

Getting started is simple as filling out a questionnaire online before becoming connected to a doctor on a HIPAA-regulated video chatting platform.

Gu so far can only see patients in Texas, California and Florida but that has been enough to keep him tied up all day.

"We're pretty busy because there are a lot of requests that come in to our website," he said. "We have a screening questionnaire and we probably get 200 to 300 patients a day submitting requests."

He doesn't see all the patients who request appointments over video, but when he does, he says it's to keep patients who don't need emergency care home to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

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"We ask them all the questions that we need to see if they have a high suspicion for coronavirus or if it's just the flu or something less serious," Gu said. "Even if it's something else and not the coronavirus, we can prescribe medication."

When he's not making a difference in real life he's trying to do so, online.

His Twitter feed is filled with information along with a telemedicine doctor's perspective on what needs to change in the country to make this battle against the coronavirus easier.

"In order to see even just take a look at a patient in another state, we need to have a licensed physician in that state," he said. "It makes telemedicine very challenging for a national problem like the coronavirus pandemic because the way that telemedicine has been structured is very regional, it's state to state."

Plus, as an Asian American doctor, Gu has been vocal about the repercussions of our words, especially when it comes to stigma.

"Saying 'Chinese virus' jeopardizes our lives, and as you know, this is a scary time in American history," he said. "I have never experienced anything like this in my entire life, neither have my parents. Everyone's getting locked down, quarantined--everyone is scared. This is one of those very vulnerable moments in our country, where you can direct that fear towards a vulnerable and small group of people and cause a lot of harm."

Even though medicine was never an easy path for him to take, Gu says he can't imagine doing anything else.

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"I'm really passionate about saving lives using evidence based medicine in particular, to help the most vulnerable. I don't regret it, it's a hard job but it's what i wanted to do," he said.

Dr. Gu says he's currently working on getting medical licenses in as many states as possible. Either that or he needs doctors from each state to join his team.

If you're a Minnesota based physician and feel that this is calling your name, reach out to us, and we'll put you in touch with Dr. Gu.

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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