The Doctor Is In

How to Get A Medical Consultation Without Leaving Home

In early June, Peter Martone of Norfolk was in a great deal of pain. It was the weekend, so reaching his doctor probably would have been a hassle—if his doctor would even accept a weekend call. And the thought of driving to an urgent care center and waiting with who-knows-how-many people only made Martone feel worse.

“I went to one last Fourth of July,” the 42-year-old shares. “I had to wait three hours while I was feeling awful.”

Martone’s wife came to his rescue this year. She suggested he call MDLIVE, a 24-hour, 365-day telehealth firm partnering with Sentara Healthcare, her employer. Anyone can talk with a Board-Certified physician via videoconference, phone or email. The fee is $45, which in many cases is less than a co-pay for an urgent care visit.

Martone decided to try it and called in. He was told he’d receive a call back, and he did within five minutes.

“I talked with the doctor over the phone for about 10 minutes,” Martone says. “He asked where my pain was, how long it was lasting and if it was on-and-off pain. He said I was suffering from kidney stones. I already had some medicine for stones, so I was able to take that (MDLIVE doctors can phone-in prescriptions if necessary). I felt better in a few days.”

Now he’s sold on the convenience of MDLIVE and plans to tell his guy friends.

“It’ll definitely save you time,” Martone says. “I’ll call rather than sit in some [urgent care] facility.”

Sentara announced its partnership with MDLIVE in August 2012. The Florida-based company formed in 2006 and partners with other health systems and employers. Doctors are recruited from throughout the country. Virginia patients may talk with Virginia doctors, and a few doctors from Sentara Medical Group are part of MDLIVE.

“We see it as a service for our community,” explains Kelly Hudgens, manager for new product initiatives at Sentara Healthcare. “We think men will particularly appreciate how quick and efficient it is. They can be back on track with less hassle.”


The most common patient ailments reported by MDLIVE patients: sinus infections, bronchitis, upper respiratory infections and urinary tract infections.

MDLIVE isn’t meant to replace an emergency room visit or a person’s regular doctor, but you can schedule a conversation with a particular doctor if you choose. You might feel comfortable if a friend or family member recommends a certain doctor, or if you’ve personally spoken to one before. If time doesn’t allow for scheduling an appointment, as is usually the case, a doctor will be assigned to you.

Not many people are comfortable yet with requesting a video-chat consult. It could be that they feel a touch embarrassed by their non-showered state or their pajamas because they’re home sick, Hudgens speculates. Another possibility? They call from their car during a break at work, seeking some privacy away from co-workers.

Or it could just be a matter of getting used to the idea of video consultations.

“I think back a few years ago,” Hudgens says. “We didn’t know much about urgent care centers. I remember my dad calling them ‘docs in a box’ and not wanting to go. Now they’re used often, and no one thinks twice about it. That can be the future for video conferencing with doctors.”

Until that time, phone conferences are more than fine. Both patients and doctors seem to be benefitting from MDLIVE voice calls.

“One of our doctors who participates with MDLIVE told me how she feels it’s made her a better listener—to both the patient’s words and his or her symptoms, like raspy breathing,” says Hudgens.

In the future, patients might “see” a specialist in their primary care physician’s office. After a regular visit with the primary care doctor, or during the visit, a specialist could consult via video. Another possibility Hudgens sees is for post-surgery patients. Instead of interrupting their recovery and placing a burden on them to arrange transportation, a surgeon might conduct a follow-up visit by video.

“We’re seeing growth with MDLIVE and all the possibilities for the future,” Hudgens says.

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