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Telemedicine is growing, but is it for you?

According to Allina Health, virtual visits tripled from 2018 to 2019. It’s used for everything from family practice to psychology to infectious disease.

You’re sick. You don’t have time to go to the doctor, or maybe you don’t feel like going to the doctor. Now there’s an app for that. 

Actually, there are plenty of apps and websites for that. Telemedicine is a growing field. One study found a whopping 82% of millennials would rather use telemedicine than see a doctor in person. According to Allina Health, virtual visits tripled from 2018 to 2019. It’s used for everything from family practice to psychology to infectious disease.

But perhaps you’re skeptical. I mean, how can you get treated for a sinus infection without seeing a doctor? Well, in some applications of telemedicine, you can see the doc through video chat. In other cases, it’s simply an online visit, and yes, even in those cases, you can get a prescription. How is that possible?

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You fill out a fairly impressive questionnaire about your symptoms and your medical history. You can send in photos if it’s something like a rash or skin condition and you may get a call from a nurse practitioner if they need more information. Think of it like this - it's more like a minute clinic versus an emergency room.

“I went on my phone and I thought, I've never tried anything like this,” says Lauren Twomey.

Lauren was in a pinch. It was the night before a vacation and she didn't have time for an appointment.

She tried Virtuwell.

"I was called by a nurse practitioner and she said, yep, we can get you treated for that and within a couple of hours had picked up my prescription and was ready to go on my vacation,” says Twomey.

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Virtuwell started 10 years ago and treated about 30 different conditions. Now, they treat well over 60 conditions and have helped more than 500,000 patients. From allergies to ear infections and bladder bothers to pink eye. They take all major insurance, but even without insurance, the bill is never more than $49. Much cheaper than an in-office visit.

"Think of the number of times you've called your clinic to ask a question about this new symptom, or maybe I got a reaction to this new medication, so what we offer is free follow-up care for that visit, so we really think you're paying $49 to get treated for this condition,” says Kris Johnson, Sr. Director of Product Development for Virtuwell.

And they're not the only option. Teladoc has a similar product and offers a video option if you'd like to see someone, quote unquote, face-to-face. United Healthcare and Allina Health have telemedicine offerings too. All of them about $50 to keep competitive. Some companies even offer the service to their employees for free. Telemedicine is not only saving time and money, it's saving lives.

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“Time is of the essence in the treatment of stroke. Every 15 minutes in delay is a potential 5% increase in mortality,” says Dr. Justin Patee, Regina Hospital emergency physician.

Telestroke is crucial in places like Regina Hospital in Hastings. With no neurologist on staff, it connects patient with expert quickly to make sure treatment is fast.

"There's risk attached to the treatment, the diagnosis can be difficult and the treatment paradigm is complex, so doctors at rural sites really need assistance in the process,” says Dr. Sandra Hanson, Allina Health Telestroke Medical Director.

Dr. Hanson and other neurologists are on call for rural hospitals, or even big city hospitals, that need a doc fast, like in the middle of the night. And even with something as serious as stroke, the video connection works.

“This might surprise you, but there are some cases where using the magna view with the camera, I get a better view of things like eye movement, and pupillary reaction to light, and things like that, than I would get if I was using my own eyes bedside,” says Dr. Hanson.

We've really only touched the surface of what telemedicine does now, and where it will go next, is changing daily. For now though, trust that you can have that rash treated, you can have that cough cleared up, by a true medical professional, without leaving your house or your job.