It was a Tuesday night when I started to feel the burn. And no, I’m not talking about politics. I’m talking about the unmistakable burn of a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Having had a couple before, I knew exactly what I was in for. So, I booked the first available appointment for the next day at a clinic by my apartment, took some Advil and a sleeping pill, and went to bed.
The pain woke me up at 3 a.m. I won’t say I was in agony, because that’s a bit dramatic. But it was as close to agony as you can be in without actually being in agony.
No matter what I tried, I could not get comfortable and I couldn’t fall back asleep. I knew that there was no way I could sit there sobbing from the pain until my 11 a.m. appointment.
I logged into the patient portal on my insurance provider’s website to see if I had coverage at any 24-hour clinics. The first thing that popped up was “MDLIVE.”
MDLIVE Called To Me
MDLIVE is a telemedicine smartphone app. Even though I’ve written about telemedicine before—and about how great it is for patients who have limited access to physicians—I was still skeptical about using it myself.
But, the nagging pain made up my mind for me. I downloaded the app and got started.
When you download MDLIVE, you begin by setting up a profile. You fill out a brief medical history form, including chronic medical conditions and allergies to medications. I don’t remember putting in my insurance information but, to be honest, that night is a bit blurry from the pain.
MDLIVE also lets you add in a picture of yourself when you’re setting up your account because hey, why not make telemedicine just like Facebook?
For the record, I chose this picture. I think it’s kind of cute.
Next, you click on “Find a Provider” and choose the type that will best meet your needs: family physician, therapist, or psychiatrist. (For a brief moment, I flirted with the idea of choosing “therapist” to discuss the emotional disaster that is my dating life, but decided I should probably go with the type of provider I actually needed in that moment.)
The next thing you do is enter your symptoms. Once you start typing, it gives you a list of suggestions (kind of like Google’s autocomplete feature).
On this page, you can also upload a photo if you have a rash or cut. I decided against including a photo for my particular ailment.
You then get taken back to your medical history page, just so you can be sure you didn’t miss any important details. Once you’ve double checked your pre-existing conditions and allergies, and marked down any medications you’re currently taking, you’re good to go on to the next step: confirm your pharmacy.
You can get help locating a nearby pharmacy on the app. Fortunately, I found one near me that was open 24 hours, or this whole experience would have been for naught.
Next, you’re asked to choose between a “visit” by video call or phone call. (I chose a phone call … I was in my pajamas and not at my best.)
At this point, you can choose “See the First Available Family Physician,” or you can pick a specific provider—not that you probably know any of them (unless you’re a frequent caller), but they do have pictures. This felt like it was just one step away from a swiping, Tinder-like app for telemedicine.
The Waiting Room (From My Bed)
You’re supposed to get a call within the hour, but the app says it usually takes less than 10 minutes. Luckily, when it’s 3 a.m., you get a call back pretty quickly.
A wonderful doctor (let’s call him Dr. Saverofpelvicpain) called me within 2 minutes. I told him my symptoms, and that I was 99% sure I had a UTI since I’d had one before and had experienced the same symptoms. The doctor agreed and sent off a prescription to the pharmacy I had chosen.
I was happy that Dr. Saverofpelvicpain made a point to mention that he was giving me a second-choice drug, since I’m allergic to the mainstay for UTIs. I’ve been to clinics before where I’ve told them about my allergies, and was still almost prescribed a drug that my body would not have appreciated.
The call lasted all of 3 minutes. I drove to the pharmacy, picked up my prescription, and was back in bed with an on-the-mend pelvis by 4 a.m. I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed, and ready to go about my day, burn-free.
Musings Of A Patient
So, what were my overall impressions of my first telemedicine experience?
- 24/7 access to care—you can’t beat those hours.
- Really, really, really easy and quick.
- The physician had clearly looked at my medical history.
- I received a prescription almost instantly.
- You don’t get any lab testing. For this type of appointment, that was fine. You don’t even always get a urine test when you go to see someone in person about a UTI—they just give you a prescription. But it does make me nervous about using telemedicine for other illnesses.
- Dr. Saverofpelvicpain was very nice, but he seemed rushed. I’m not sure why he was so rushed at 3 a.m.—maybe there was an onslaught of cross-country UTIs?
- The pricing was a bit unclear. I couldn’t figure out if this was considered a primary care visit or a specialty visit, so I didn’t know exactly how much I was going to be paying. The app did guarantee it would be cheaper than the urgent care copay, so I knew I was scoring a good deal. I just wish I’d had a bit more information about the cost upfront.
- The in-person physicians I’ve seen since then have had mixed reactions. My primary care provider thought it was cool, and great for things like UTIs. The emergency room doctor I saw the next night (for an unrelated issue) was very wary about it.
Overall, I was very pleased with my first experience with telemedicine. In the future, I’d still like to try to see someone in-person. I think that that’s usually ideal because an in-person provider can run lab tests, see if anything on your body looks abnormal, etc.
However, for things like UTIs where the pain is really bad, I’m almost positive I know what it is, and I just want a prescription as soon as possible, I would absolutely use telemedicine again. It’s really easy, quick, and less expensive than urgent care.
Plus, it just feels kind of cool to have a telemedicine appointment. It’s like you’re getting a house call. (Get it?)
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