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The Doctor Will (Virtually) See You Now

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More and more, medical professionals in Connecticut are turning to tablets and cell phones to connect remotely with patients. It’s called “telehealth,” and it’s facilitating everything from after-hours examinations to post-surgery check-ins.

Page Waller said headaches, fever, and even tick bites are all conditions where telemedicine, also called “telehealth,” can save time or an expensive visit to the emergency room. “You really don’t always need to lay hands on a patient to be able to diagnose them with a common problem,” Waller said.

Waller is a physician assistant with Western Connecticut Medical Group, who recently trained on their telehealth system. As she fiddled with an iPad, her picture popped up in a virtual waiting room.

Patients can log into an app, click on the provider, and are connected for a virtual face-to-face visit.

“For anyone who has used any application such as Skype or FaceTime, if you can use that, you can do telehealth,” said Deb Picchione, who is running the day’s training. She said the idea is to increase access to after-hour care. “They just pop on and we have the service staffed every evening from 5:00 to 10:00 pm,” she said, “and weekend coverage, 10:00 am to 10:00 pm.”

Picchione said most commercial insurance pays for telehealth visits at the same rate they would for an in-office visit.

David Mulligan, a transplant surgeon and professor at the Yale School of Medicine, said he uses telemedicine to check-in on patients after organ transplants. A few months back, he was caring for with a patient who was recovering well after getting a new kidney, but lived nearly two hours away from the hospital. So they connected remotely.

“He was actually sitting in the car, on his iPhone having a visit with us in the backseat of his car, while his wife was in having her hair done,” Mulligan said.

Patients can point their cameras at incisions to show doctors how they’re healing and, in the future, Mulligan said bluetooth gadgets attached to your phone may take telemedicine to the next level – allowing patients to do things like ear exams, or send doctors real-time data on their heart rate or blood pressure.

Copyright 2017 WNPR News. To see more, visit WNPR News.

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative, eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter at WNPR. He covers science and the environment. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of WNPR's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.