Telemedicine fills the gap for care in the wake of Harvey

Patients access virtual care, such as that offered by Children’s Health System in Dallas convention center.

With flood waters finally receding in southeastern Texas, medical services are still heavily disrupted, especially for patients seeking essential medical care.

Tens of thousands of Houston area residents remain displaced, with homes heavily damaged by flood waters. Similarly, the offices of primary care physicians have been damaged in the area. In these cases, telemedicine services are stepping into the void.

Companies that offer distant health services are seizing the opportunity to meet the need, with several companies offering virtual care services by phone or video to individuals affected by the storm.

Among the companies providing services are American Well, Doctor on Demand, MDLive and Teledoc. Announcements from the companies say they will offer health services at no charge through September 8.

For example, Teladoc is offering the free service to all victims of the hurricane, not just Teladoc members. Among those adult and pediatric conditions that can be effectively diagnosed and treated are common conditions including sinus problems, respiratory infection, allergies, cold and flu symptoms and many other non-emergency illnesses.

Also See: Harvey is a stark reminder of the need for a disaster recovery plan

Such services are crucial, because flood conditions, like mold in flooded homes, can exacerbate conditions such as asthma. In addition, flood water may carry viruses and bacteria from dead animals, chemicals and other contaminants that could cause serious health problems.

“As hundreds of thousands of Americans are facing a time of need, Teladoc is working to make sure that they can count on readily available access to high quality care, 24/7. Our call center reps and board certified and state-licensed physicians are standing by to help those families who have been displaced from their doctors and regular routines, but who still need non-emergency medical care,” says Lewis Levy, MD, chief medical officer of Teladoc.

National companies have been enabled to provide care by a Texas law that went into effect earlier this year, abolishing the requirement that a patient-physician relationship be first established in person before telemedicine services can be used.

In addition to the national companies, Texas firms and providers are filling in with virtual health delivery.

For example, the Rowe Network, a Houston-based telemedicine practice, is making its network of 50 physicians available at no charge to treat patients affected by Harvey, and they’re coordinating with doctors and nurses at shelters to treat patients and write prescriptions.

Additionally, Children’s Health System of Texas is providing virtual health services through telemedicine via a temporary clinic set up at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas. Clinicians there are particularly looking to meet the health and emotional needs of children impacted by the disaster.

Another approach for getting virtual care to patients is being offered by Star ER, a Lubbock, Texas-based emergency care organization. It’s using a free app that can be downloaded by anyone in the area, which can be used to log in and have a teleconsultation with one of its physicians at its facility. The smartphone-based approach is like receiving a consult via Facetime, the organization says.

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