Virtual Medicine Becoming More and More The Norm

August 06, 2019 08:12 AM

In southeast Minnesota, people are used to hearing about medical breakthroughs. Those often come in the form of new treatments or medical equipment. However, there are also advances in how people visit the doctor. 

"We have six children," said Jennifer Cramer. Jennifer lives in Stewartville with her husband and children. "(The kids) range in age from 18 down to four," added Jennifer. With such a full household, Jennifer knows what it's like to be busy. 


"Busy is mild. There's sports, there's homework during the school year obviously. Everybody needs something; a shoe tied, a button buttoned, hair, you name it. It's always chaotic. Working full time both my husband and I, it is difficult to breathe sometimes," said Jennifer. 

Jennifer also knows what it's like to go to the doctor, both with those six kids, and also herself after recently having ankle surgery. The frequent doctor visits led Jennifer to do what more ane more Americans are doing; seeking healthcare virtually. According to a 2019 Accenture survey, 29% of people say they've used some form of virtual healthcare. That's up from 21% in 2017. 

"So is there a way we can refill meds or are there protocols we can use with common illnesses?  Things that we are able to troubleshoot without actually seeing the patient," said Mary Nicklay. Mary is a nurse practitioner who lives in Byron. She works for Virtuwell, an online healthcare clinic. 

"You can sit at home in your pajamas or sit at work on your lunch break and really quickly enter in. It probably takes less than ten minutes. We can treat you and have your medications ready for you before you get off work," said Nicklay. 

Essentially, people answer questions about their symptoms. The questionnaire is then reviewed by a healthcare professional, who will follow up with a care plan. It's a similar system to Mayo Clinic's "Express Care Online." 

"I think you are seeing trends across all industries; banking, travel, everything we do in life, things are getting more convenient for the customer or in this case, the patient," said Dr. Steve Ommen. Dr. Ommen is a Mayo Clinic cardiologist and the medical director for Mayo's Center for Connected Care. He says virtual healthcare at Mayo Clinic goes even further than Express Care Online.

"There are some emergency care situations where we can deliver care faster without waiting for helicopters or ambulances to transport people between cities. So for instance, babies that are born in unexpected distress. The historical way would be to transfer that baby to a NICU like we have here in Rochester. But now we can use video technology tools to transmit our doctors to where the baby is and they can start the process with the local care team," said Dr. Ommen. 

Another way doctors at Mayo Clinic utilize digital care is from their desk. They can not only review patient records and data, but they can actually see the patients no matter how far away they are. Then, on the other end, the patients can actually see the doctor using monitors that are placed in the patients' rooms. 

The age of the patient also comes into play in terms of how healthcare is changing. That same Accenture survey shows that the younger the patient, the less likely he/she is to have a primary care provider. However, when it comes to using virtual medicine, age doesn't necessarily matter. 

"Our age ranges do vary. We see everything form a diaper rash up into the late 80s even early 90s," said Nicklay. 
"If you think about it, the elderly patient is less mobile than the younger patients. So it is harder for them to come into the facility," said Dr. Ommen. 

Dr. Ommen says the current technology is only the beginning. 

"I think you're going to see more and more adoption of these types of services. And then the use of devices to monitor physiological parameters; heart rate, blood pressure, those types of things that right now are done through FDA approved devices. But the consumer-grade wearable devices have sensors that can pick up lots of information now. That data about each of our patients will become increasingly available to us. The advent of things like artificial intelligence to process those signals for our patients and understand when people are starting to deviate form their healthy path that maybe we can get in and nudge them back to health without them having to come in for a full fledged procedure or office visit or hospitalization for instance. So the ability to use data that are generated by the patients themselves when they give us access to it I think will change how quickly we can intervene on patients and help them stay healthier," said Dr. Ommen. 

If it makes her life just a little bit more streamlined, Jennifer Cramer is on board. 

"Nobody likes to be inconvenienced with having to take time off work," said Jennifer. 

Dr. Ommen said the video conferencing has been a big help for follow-up visits for people who need continued monitoring after a procedure, especially if they live farther away. 


Copyright 2019 - KAAL-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


Most Read Stories