Telemedicine is helping healthcare providers treat hurricane victims

Chris Nerney
Chris Nerney, Contributing Writer |

Telemedicine is viewed as an effective way to provide healthcare services to patients living in remote areas.

But as the medical world’s reaction to Hurricane Harvey shows, telemedicine can play a vital role in disaster response.

STAT writer Leah Samuel reports that healthcare providers in Texas are using  telemedicine to treat children at Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, where some Houston area residents flooded out by the hurricane have been relocated. Indeed, children comprise the vast majority of flood victims offered shelter at the convention facility.

“For every adult that comes in, there will be about three children,” Scott Summerall, spokesperson for Dallas pediatric hospital Children’s Health, tells Samuel. “We have doctors for adults available at the shelter 24 hours a day, but we don’t have as many pediatric specialists, especially at night.”

Hundreds of makeshift beds are strewn across the cold, dark floor of the convention center as up to 5,000 displaced people are expected to seek shelter there while coastal areas recover from the punishing storm. But Children’s Health has created a makeshift room in the convention center rigged with a computer monitor and medical equipment that can measure and transmit vital signs. This allows emergency room professionals back at the hospital to conduct a remote e-visit with young patients.

Other telemedicine services are stepping up to help in areas devastated by Harvey. Doctor on Demand, a telemedicine services provider, on Wednesday announced it will offer one free medical video visit to hurricane victims through September 8.

“Our physicians can treat infections, skin and eye issues, sprains, bruises, back pain, vomiting, diarrhea, colds, coughs, congestion, and 90% of the most common medical issues seen in the ER and urgent care,” Doctors on Demand said in a blog post. “In addition to these medical conditions, our physicians are trained to treat stress, anxiety, grief, and depression.”

To access Doctors on Demand, patients can download an app or sign up on the service’s website.

EpicMD, a healthcare technology start-up, also announced on Wednesday that it is offering free, remote medical consultations by primary care physicians and specialists that “can be conducted by phon