Telemedicine: How to get medical help while social distancing

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Monday, March 16, 2020
Telemedicine: What is it and how does it work?
Telemedicine: What is it and how does it work?

There's a big question on a lot of minds right now... how do you see a doctor when we are supposed to be social distancing due to the spread of the coronavirus?

The answer is telemedicine -- using your phone to see your physician -- and it's now exploding in popularity.

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The concept -- seeing a doctor remotely via video, phone or text -- has never really picked up steam until now.

"In a crisis such as COVID-19 our goal is to benefit the public and decrease the risk of infection and telemedicine is a perfect opportunity to do that," Dr. Rahul Sharma told GMA.

Telemedicine allows those who are immunocompromised or quarantined to get a doctor's advice from home.

It can also keep patients who believe they may have the coronavirus out of the emergency room where they could spread the disease to others.

Some are just looking for reassurance, like 54-year-old Sharon from Maryland.

Sharon has some concerns about exposure. Her elderly mother-in-law will be coming to visit next week.

"She's 89 and she's had cancer," Sharon said. "So I really I'm not sure if I should be nervous or cautious."

Dr. Mia Finkelston was able to examine Sharon over a video call.

Some companies are seeing huge increases in telehealth visits.

Multicare, the largest community-based health system in the state of Washington, says it has seen a 1300% increase in average daily visit volume this month versus the last six months.

"We've definitely seen an uptick in visits," Dr. Finkelston said. "Right now, our most common visit is upper respiratory infection, which is, you know, common cold, sinusitis, fever, cough, a lot of these symptoms are the same symptoms you see with COVID-19.

Dr. Finkelston says that 80 percent of diagnoses are made through taking a patient's history. And teledoctors have some medical tricks to help get around not seeing patients in person.

"So while I might not be able to listen to someone's lungs, I can actually look at their respiratory pattern, if they're actually breathing fast," Dr. Sharma said. "We can actually have the patient take their own heart rate so there are ways for us to examine these patients and it's actually very helpful."

ABC News contributed to this story.

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