Doctors are only a text message or video chat away for Hurricane Harvey victims who need medical attention.
A new program at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center called Texas Docs Care is providing free medical services to Hurricane Harvey victims through telemedicine. Telemedicine is a treatment option which uses real-time, two-way communication between a patient and physician, such as video conferencing and messaging, to provide healthcare from a distance.
“Telemedicine is a platform that breaks down barriers to physician access,” Dr. Deborah Diercks, professor and chairman of Emergency Medicine at UT-Southwestern, said.
The service will be provided for one to two months after the hurricane and is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., depending on the needs of the people impacted by Harvey. Physicians volunteer their time to the program, and CirrusMD, an IT support company, is providing the platform for telemedicine. The program was created by faculty in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UT-Southwestern with support from the university.
“Our goal is to provide access to care while the areas impacted by Harvey rebuild,” Dr. Diercks said. “Our biggest challenge is making sure that those who need our services are aware of them.”
According to Dr. Diercks, the program is ideal for anyone who needs to refill their medication or has minor medical complaints that a person would otherwise consider going to urgent care for.
Using Texas Docs Care, victims of Harvey can download the CirrusMD app and communicate with physicians using video, text messaging or by sending images. The app is available on both the App Store and Google Play market.
“In disaster situations, such as Hurricane Harvey, telemedicine may be an option depending on what infrastructure exists,” Dr. Diercks said.
When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, it largely disrupted transportation by damaging roads and personal vehicles. However, access to the internet and phone services was largely uninterrupted.
“In this situation, telemedicine is ideal to overcome access issues,” Dr. Diercks said.
The recent hurricane that hit Puerto Rico, however, damaged electricity and communication infrastructure, making telemedicine impossible, according to Dr. Diercks.
Houston resident and Harvey victim Anna Ahlan said she is thankful for what the program is doing, though she hasn’t needed the medical care herself.
“It’s really the small, individual acts of effort and kindness people make in times of distress that really add up,” she said. “The Texas Docs Care program is just like that.”
CirrusMD CEO Andrew Altorfer said in a press release that he was excited to partner with UT Southwestern Medical Center.
“By giving patients a complimentary, HIPAA-compliant, virtual-care option to text, image share or video chat, we can remove barriers to care and help ensure they’re seeing the right doctor at the right time,” Altorfer said.