The days when most doctors made house calls are practically over, but online technology now makes it possible to “call up” a health care professional and almost instantly have a consultation.
Some local providers are exploring the digital world to satisfy patients’ needs for convenience and staying well.
Christina Juarez, a medical technician at Alon Family Health, 11503 N.W. Military Highway, instructs patients about downloading their TeleMed app and shows them how to register for a virtual office consult service.
Today, while the clinic still sees 20 to 30 in-person clients Monday through Friday, the two doctors at the practice also can interact with 10 to 15 virtual customers a day, including Saturdays.
“Most of our patients like it,” Juarez said. “They can schedule a TeleMed visit on the patient portal. If they have a cough or a cold or a rash, the doctor can evaluate and prescribe for them so they don’t have to come in, and maybe spread it to other patients.”
TeleMed is also popular for follow-up visits.
Other providers such as Health Texas Medical Group of San Antonio, with 17 area locations, count on the personal touch to keep patients healthy and happy. An employee at the Wurzbach Road at Fredericksburg Road clinic said most patrons there prefer person-to-person contact, even with recently installed check-in kiosks.
“Some of the younger ones like it (virtual services),” she said, “but most of our patients want to do everything face-to-face.”
However, the company’s online patient portal has been more successful. As with most health care providers, folks can log in with a user name and a password for referrals and lab tests, to check their next appointment, to retrieve a summary of their last visit, for an appointment history, to request a prescription refill or to ask a health question.
But, for really high-tech, cutting-edge innovations, look to the military.
Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Nadja West announced in March 2017 Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston had been selected as the Army’s first virtual medical center, massively expanding state-of-the-art services already available there.
V-MEDCEN, or Virtual Medical Center, uses the latest technology including email, web-based programs, cameras and cellphones, to enable nearly all departments at BAMC to offer consultations to the armed forces, retirees and their families anywhere they’re located.
However, while the V-MEDCEN concept is new, BAMC already has virtual programs in place, such as uploading skin-site images and remotely diagnosing dermatological problems, thus saving trips to and from specialists and cutting costs of providing good health care.
In an address to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense in April, West said virtual health could revolutionize access to a patient’s home, to garrison facilities or even to deployed troops with consultations via a telecommunication hookup known as “Ask-a-Doc.”
Looking to the future, according to the Army News Service, in a talk with the Association of the U.S. Army in Arlington, Virginia, on May 8, West “has revealed that implantable monitoring devices may be the future of military medicine.” The monitors would include a gold chip embedded in a soldier’s wrist to send health-related data and help doctors determine fitness for battle.
Meanwhile, closer to home, thanks to the digital era, hospitals have more ways to connect patients and medics.
For example, the St. Luke’s Baptist Hospital website has an online Physician Finder for any specialty, and videos describing services, too.
Registering for primary care at the site ensures medical charts are recorded electronically so any clinic within the affiliation can serve all registered patients; the records are accessible systemwide.
There are even indications Amazon is working to create a platform for consumers to cast their cares into cyberspace and, with the touch of a key or the swipe of a screen, find themselves virtually eye-to-eye with a telemedicine professional of their choice almost anywhere.