Telemedicine Emerges as Vital Option in Flu Outbreak

As hospital emergency rooms fill up with flu patients, telemedicine is now front and center as a leading option to getting to a doctor faster and key to containing the outbreak.

Inside the nurse's office at 97 North Texas schools are telehealth kiosks, connecting sick students with doctors or nurse practitioners.

In just the last week, they've diagnosed dozens of students with flu.

"A lot of times, we can order the flu test and we will have answer in 10 minutes, just like you would in your doctor's office," said Dr. Stormee Williams, with Children's Health.

With a quick diagnosis comes quick action to contain and treat the virus.

Parents can be conferenced in and a prescription can be sent to their pharmacy, no trip to the hospital or urgent care required.

Influenza Surveillance Report (Week Ending Jan. 27, 2018)
Click on each state for more information.

Data: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Nina Lin/NBC

"This is a much better option than going to the emergency department for a non-emergent visit," Williams said.

"These are the kinds of modalities that can help us to contain those illnesses,  to help prevent the spread of disease. And, like we said, in the emergency room, it's filed with sick people, so we don't want other healthy people, including parents, to get sick while waiting in the E-R."

Left: Reported Flu Activity for the Week of Dec. 31, 2016 (Week 52); Right: Reported Flu Activity for the Week of Dec. 30, 2017 (Week 52)
Data: CDC

Telemedicine can be a good option for children and adults who have typical symptoms of the flu, like body aches, moderate fever, or dry cough.

Many employer-sponsored health insurance packages include services like Teledoc, or Docs on Demand.

Methodist Family Health Centers just launched virtual doctor visits through MethodistNOW.

Patients complete an online interview and enter their symptoms and health history information and then chat online with a doctor in real-time.

"By the time the patient enters all the information, we have a pretty good idea if they have the flu or not and what we should do about it," said Dr. George Williams, president of Methodist Medical Group.

The visit doesn't require insurance and costs a flat-fee of $40.

"A lot of people are wondering right now, 'Do I have the flu? What should I do about it?' It's really a great opportunity to try a new technology and be part of the future of healthcare delivery," Williams said.

Anyone with severe flu symptoms, such as dizziness or confusion, or other health conditions should see a doctor right away.

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