Storms give online healthcare chance to come to rescue

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

We live in a time of countless innovations, but sometimes it takes adversity to bring the most out of available technology.

Rural areas have long used video conferencing to deliver education — we remember students in the Australian Outback receiving their schooling via shortwave radio, and they’re probably on a satellite Internet service these days.

Mid-Plains Community College has been a leader in “distance learning,” especially in the days before the establishment of campuses in Valentine, Imperial and Broken Bow, and most other college make classes available online.

Community Hospital and other rural hospitals have the capability of delivering services via telehealth, but sometimes geography isn’t the only barrier to making sure someone receives the help they need.

Such is the case in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, where recent hurricanes knocked out power and even local transportation needed for medical care.

A Reuters story cited the example of an Orlando, Fla., woman, who needed a doctor for her 4-year-old daughter, who had a fever.

Amanda Leite couldn’t find a pediatrician’s office with both a doctor and electricity, and she would have had to break curfew to take her daughter to an emergency room, if she could find one open.

She remembered seeing a Facebook post about a local children’s hospital having a telehealth app, which it was making free to anyone affected by the storm.

She soon had a doctor on her phone screen who had access to her daughter’s health record, and under the doctor’s direction, did a basic exam, pressing on her daughter’s stomach, weighing her and holding the phone to the child’s mouth so he could see her throat.

Teledoc Inc. is the largest provider of doctor visits via video chats, saying it sees about 5,000 patients a day for an out-of-pocket fee of $45 or less.

Skyping with your doctor isn’t the only recent innovation however; owners of fitness-tracking watches have ready-made records of their sleeping habits, heart rates and exercise as well as other information readily available for their doctors to study.

And, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential of wearable technology to monitor our health.

Insurance companies and employers are turning to telehealth more and more to help reduce the cost of providing health services to employees.

Since the national debate raging over the best way to deliver healthcare may take years to resolve, advancing technology will have more time to play an increasingly important part in providing some of the answers.

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