Updated to include American Well's Harvey offerings
The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey and its subsequent tropical storm has caused hardships for many living in southeastern Texas and parts of Louisiana. One of the many things extreme weather makes difficult is accessing healthcare services, a near impossibility when a deluge of rain has trapped people in homes and shelters.
Telemedicine companies are jumping in to fill the void, offering physician consultations remotely to those who may be trapped by flooding and extreme winds.
MDLive, Doctor on Demand, and American Well are all offering free virtual care services via phone or video to individuals and families impacted by the storm; the free services started August 25 and will continue through September 8.
The companies are able to offer this care because of a new Texas law that went into effect earlier this year. The law abolishes the requirement that patient-physician relationships be established with an in-person visit before telemedicine can be used. Texas is the final state of 50 to abolish this requirement, allowing telemedicine services such as MDLive and Doctor on Demand to expand their operations nationally, though there are still limitations in Arkansas and Idaho.
“MDLive is well attuned the devastation a hurricane can cause with headquarters located in hurricane gulch -- Sunrise, Florida,” Dr. Deborah Mulligan, Chief Medical Affairs Officer for MDLive, told MobiHealthNews. “The company has a disaster preparedness plan in place in advance of extreme weather events taking place, such as Hurricane Harvey, knowing that access to care is often limited at least for the first week post-hurricane landfall and through the recovery phase.”
Mulligan said there are certain conditions that are unique to post-hurricanes and floods that virtual care is uniquely equipped to treat. Sewage systems often spill over during these events, for instance, and the water can dredge up infectious materials from human waste.
Health issues arising from such circumstances can be addressed virtually, said Mulligan. Bug bites from bees, fire ants and mosquitos can be treated as well, as well as other animal bites from feral cats, dogs and snakes. Sharing photos of the wound through the MDLIVE app or via video consultation can allow a physician to determine the appropriate course of action for the patient.
Behavioral and mental health issues are also addressable, said Mulligan.
“Roughly 20 percent of the population suffers from a mental health diagnosis at some point in their life, and a hurricane of this gravity may exacerbate pre-existing conditions, as well as increase stress levels, anxiety and depression in those affected,” she said. “MDLIVE’s platform includes virtual psychiatric services performed by licensed psychiatrists.”
Doctor On Demand physicians will treat infections, skin and eye issues, sprains and bruises, back pain, vomiting and diarrhea, colds, coughs, and congestion, and 90 percent of the most common medical issues seen in the ER and urgent care. The company’s physicians are trained to treat stress, anxiety, grief, and depression.
Doctor on Demand CEO Hill Ferguson said the decision to help was made before the storm even made landfall.
“We had a similar response during Hurricane Matthew last year that impacted the southeast and found it to be a valuable resource for those that could not make it to see a doctor in-person,” he said.
The company’s free services won’t be limited to just residents of Texas and Louisiana, either. Out-of-state visitors or responders who may need medical treatment will be eligible as well -- as will children.
“Parents or caretakers of children are able to add their children to their Doctor On Demand account,” said Ferguson. “From there, it’s a seamless experience to securely allow their child to meet with a board-certified physician.”
Individuals may call MDLive at (888) 959-9516 to connect with a board-certified doctor in their state and provide the code “HARVEY” to schedule one virtual visit at no charge. For Doctors on Demand, prospective patients can register on the company’s website and enter the code HARVEY2017 to redeem their virtual visit.
And while those two companies will be offering free services through the 8th, other players are entering the field and offering services that extend for a bit longer. American Well’s Amwell service began offering free telehealth visits for both psychological counseling and medical needs to people affected by Harvey on Monday, and will continue doing so through at least September15. Prospective users can sign up on Awell's website, choose the doctor that works best for them and schedule a meeting through their computer or smartphone utilizing a high-speed internect connection, 24 hours a day.