Virtual Exams: The Right Rx for What Ails You?

Oct 9, 2018, 10:15 PM | Updated: Oct 11, 2018, 5:54 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — On a chilly, fall Friday morning in Rock Springs, Wyoming, four pediatric patients gather in an examination room at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County. Their orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Theresa Hennessey, is examining them more than 185 miles away at Shriners Hospital in Salt Lake City.

Welcome to telemedicine.

Virtual follow-up

“You can hook up monitoring systems. You can get tests. For general medicine, for general pediatric, things where you’re monitoring someone’s health, it’s fantastic,” said Hennessey, who is also an associate professor of orthopedics at the University of Utah.

Dr. Theresa Hennessey, at Shriners Hospital in Salt Lake City, checks in with patients in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

The patients also think it’s fantastic – none of the appointments on this day lasted longer than 20 minutes.

“Instead of driving all the way down to Salt Lake and pay for a [hotel] room and gas and all of that, we’ve been very grateful to use telehealth,” said Stephanie Neece. Her son Aiden was accidentally run over by a lawn mower when he was four.

Bringing specialty care to rural hospitals

A short distance from Shriners, a similar scenario is playing out at the University Hospital.

Dr. Ted Kimball is a surgical intensivist who tends to critically ill patients at rural hospitals. He does it virtually through a robot he can control from his phone.

Dr. Ted Kimball, a surgical intensivist, uses a robot to visit critically ill patients in rural areas.

“I can drive our robot and look at that patient, talk to the patient, talk to the family, talk to the doctor right at the bedside,” he said. “There is just no way to have that type of specialist in every rural hospital.”

Telemedicine helps bring that specialized expertise to more people. A patient can stay at home or at a local hospital, rather than being flown to University Hospital.

University of Utah Health offers a variety of medical specialists to doctors and nurses at 35 rural hospitals across the Intermountain West. Those medical specialties include dermatology, cardiology, burn care, strokes, speech prenatal care, eye care and more.

Project ECHO

Kimball says the university also sets itself apart by offering what he calls a “whole virtual education curriculum.”

KSL attended one of those sessions as Dr. Terry Box, a nationally-renowned expert in liver transplants, led a discussion with a team of doctors on hepatitis C. Known as Project ECHO, hospitals train doctors in specialty care by offering lectures and case studies via video conferencing on a weekly or bi-monthly basis.

“We’ve leveled the playing field in a way relative to patient access,” said Box, who is an associate professor at the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Utah.

Urgent care

Telemedicine is getting even more accessible for patients by offering physician visits on a phone or computer.

“The convenience part of that is a big deal,” said Adam Hornung, the director of telehealth at Intermountain Healthcare.

Essentially, it’s urgent care without the wait. The virtual exam is offered anywhere, anytime. And the cost could be considerably less than an in-person urgent care visit, depending on your insurance, according to a study conducted this year by Regence.

That’s why many healthcare companies are getting in on this growing industry.

Intermountain Healthcare has its virtual exam service known as Connect Care. University of Utah Health offers one known as Virtual Visits. And there are a host of other virtual services that can be found on the internet that have no connection to a brick-and-mortar hospital.

When to see a doctor in-person

But virtual urgent care services shouldn’t be used for all ailments. While it’s generally a great starting point for a fever, cold and flu symptoms, a respiratory infection, conjunctivitis, sinus infection, sore throat, a mild sprain or allergies, there are circumstances that always warrant an in-person visit with a medical professional.

“If you’re bleeding and in need of stitches, Connect Care is not going to be helpful for you,” Hornung warned.

And keep in mind, launching an urgent care visit on your phone or home computer could carry some risks.

According to research published in May 2016 of the Journal of the American Medical Association, 67 volunteers tested eight virtual care companies. Of those 599 visits, patients were given an incorrect diagnosis or no diagnosis at all 23.5% of the time. Many of the missed or missing diagnoses were for common ailments such as sore throats, sinus infections, low back pain, and urinary tract infections.

Bottom line, in a real emergency, you need a doctor. But for less serious maladies, we all want to save time, and that’s where telemedicine comes into play.

“I don’t think a lot of times patients associate convenience with health care,” said Hornung. “We’re looking to change that.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Signature Reports

John Hollenhorst, KSL TV

BYU professor discovers ‘dead zone’ in Antarctica

In the history of science, there have been big discoveries and little discoveries, fantastic findings and obscure observations. But here's a very special case: A professor at Brigham Young University is gaining attention for literally discovering "nothing."
1 year ago
Victoria Karpos works on her computer in her company's warehouse space. (Ray Boone/KSL TV)...
Ray Boone, KSL TV

Statue Sculptors In Salt Lake City Achieve International Recognition

Like all civilizations, every business starts out small. The one sculpted by Victoria Karpos and her husband in Salt Lake City has spread far beyond the Aegean Sea, thanks to a little help from the internet.
2 years ago
The Antelope Point launch ramp is closed due to dropping water levels at Lake Powell. (National Par...
John Hollenhorst, KSL TV

Love, Hope, Worry & Fear As Lake Powell Water Levels Drop

Normally at this time of year, Lake Powell's water level would have risen substantially due to spring runoff, but not this year. It continued to drop through the month of May. 
2 years ago
Richard Ledbetter, 88, began writing poetry after his wife, Elicia, succumbed to cancer in 1987. (K...
Peter Rosen, KSL TV

Elderly Man Shares His Big Heart By Writing Inspiring Love Poems

Love inspires, no matter who you are or how old you are. At his job as a security guard last year, Saxon Porter made a discovery — a new poet with a lot to say about love. The writer was 88-year-old Richard Ledbetter, the guard who worked the overnight shift.
2 years ago
(KSL TV)...
Shelby Hintze, KSL TV

KSL Special Report: COVID-19 Vaccine

In this COVID-19 Vaccine special report, KSL TV breaks down what is known about each vaccine and what the process for rolling out the vaccine will look like.
2 years ago
Ashley Moser, Keri Wilcox & Aley Davis, KSL TV

The Quiet Crisis: Utah Law Enforcement Share Mental Health Struggles With KSL

In 2018, more police died by suicide in the United States than died in the line of duty. And the number of law enforcement suicides went up dramatically in 2019. KSL heard from officers statewide about their mental health struggles in an exclusive survey.
2 years ago

Sponsored Articles

house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Virtual Exams: The Right Rx for What Ails You?