A few weeks ago, I was in a bit of quandary that likely was repeated by many denizens of the Lehigh Valley office world.
Several of my co-workers were out sick. Some of them even had the dreaded capital “F” flu, versus a run-of-the-mill generic flu-like virus.
And there I was, typing away at my desk, when my throat started to tickle.
It kept getting worse. My nose was getting sniffly, my ears were starting to pound, and I wasn’t sure, but maybe, just maybe, I was starting to run a fever.
I whined to anyone who would listen.
If I were coming down with the flu, I wanted to get to the doctor ASAP.
But if it wasn’t the flu, just a bad allergy attack, and I went to the doctor, I’d be walking into a place full of sick people – and likely walk out with a virus I didn’t have in the first place.
I got dozens of opinions from friends and co-workers and ultimately decided to brave a trip to germ central.
It was a good thing. I had an upper respiratory infection, and prescription antibiotics got me back to my old self in no time.
But the entire time, I kept thinking there had to be a better option for getting medical advice without exposing myself to people who in fact already were sick.
Apparently, so did Dr. John Shufeldt, the Arizona-based founder and CEO of MeMD. Shufeldt, an emergency medicine professional and the founder of several emergent care centers, saw plenty of people suffering the trip to the doctor’s office with a bad case of the sniffles – only to be sent home two hours and $150 later with advice to rest and drink plenty of fluids.
“I thought to myself, ‘Wow they’re really just looking for advice,’ ” he said.
An emergency care doctor, Shufeldt couldn’t set a bone or stich a hand over the Internet, but there were plenty of services that he could offer online.
So he started www.memd.me, a website that provides a $49.95 virtual medical consultation using a computer and webcam so the sick can stay home and still get help.
He can help with fairly broad services. Since starting the website in 2010, Shufeldt has treated “tons of colds, the flu, rashes, urinary tract infections and other simple things,” he said.
The benefits are many. The sick stay home, where they’re comfortable without having to wander out into the elements, and they’re not exposing others to their germs.
Still, Shufeldt can tell if further help is needed and advise someone to go to an emergency room if it seems like the patient might have something worse than a little virus.
Sure, there are limitations. He can’t hear the patient’s heart or look into an ear with his otoscope, but that may only be a temporary problem.
He said remote medical technology is advancing quickly, and products are in development where people can use an attachment to their smartphone to let patients look in their ears or take their blood pressure – even draw a drop of blood to be analyzed at home.
“It just seems like a natural progression for health care to increase the convenience to the patient,” he said.
He’s developing virtual behavioral health counseling so that people can talk to their therapist via computer. He said that is an emerging option that many people seem to prefer for their personal comfort level.
He also has an Employee Assistance Plan program, where employers can subsidize the virtual visits for their employees.
He said that can be of help at busy worksites where an employee might be hurt and unsure if stiches or further medical treatment are needed. Plenty of time and expense can be saved if a doctor can peer through his computer monitor and provide a sound medical opinion that “a Band-Aid will do just fine.”
But what I like most about the website is that it’s keeping sick people from other sick people so their viruses aren’t co-mingling and merging into superbugs.
While we don’t know – because the main character was in a coma when it happened (aren’t they always) – that’s probably how the zombie apocalypse occurred in “The Walking Dead.”
Zombie patient zero likely went to the doctor to find out why his skin was looking “a little green” and POW! Everyone is infected, and the world population is annihilated.
So, thanks for saving us from the coming zombie apocalypse, Dr. Shufeldt, or at least for offering an easy option to a busy emergency room.