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With the scary news that COVID-19 cases have been reported in Colorado, the threat of infection from this virus comes closer to us all. The evidence from the more than 80,000 cases that have been reported in China shows that about 80 percent of people have mild illnesses. About 20 percent have severe illness. If you have mild symptoms, health officials definitely want you to stay home and self-manage because they want the hospitals to be able to take care of the truly sick folks. If everyone with a cold floods their local emergency rooms, it will be harder for healthcare workers to treat patients who are critically ill. Plus, you could pick up the virus in the hospital if you don’t already have it.

The most common symptoms of coronavirus are: fever, cough and a runny nose. In other words, many of the symptoms are the same as the common cold or the flu. So if you start feeling sick – what should you do? Telemedicine might be the answer.

“If you feel well enough that if it weren’t for coronavirus you wouldn’t see a doctor, don’t see a doctor,” said Lauren Sauer, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Not only can you self-manage from the comfort of your couch, but health officials want you to do so. They recommend that you should stay home if you can self-manage your symptoms at home.”

Last flu season, I did exactly that and stayed home while suffering miserably from a nasty cough, chest congestion, sore throat. After three days I was still aching all over and decided enough was enough, I should go and see my doctor to get prescription meds. When I called for an appointment though I found that I couldn’t get scheduled for another two weeks. The receptionist suggested I could come in early the next day and try for a walk-in, but I was feeling far too miserable to consider getting out of bed, driving to the doctor’s office and then waiting to see if I could by chance get in to see my doctor for treatment.

This year, with the possibility of other sick folks trying this approach, those who might even have the coronavirus, this option would be even less appealing.

While I was lying in bed feeling thoroughly sorry for myself, being a total geek, I decide to search online for self-help. Genius! A short Google search connected me to the on-line app “Doctor on Demand”.

Shortly after downloading this onto my smartphone and signing up for service, I was immediately connected to a doctor in California for a video consultation (while I was still in bed). Through the video app, my remote doctor, who had a charming bedside manner, stepped through a consultation with me, asking questions on my symptoms. His conclusion was that I was indeed suffering from a viral infection. He took time to explain to me that antibiotics cannot kill viruses, but recommended a course of treatment including boosting my immune system and medication to treat the symptoms. He sent me detailed instructions through the App including his diagnosis, treatment, home care and the symptoms I needed to watch for that would indicate prompt medical attention was needed. He also immediately sent a prescription to my local pharmacy (Safeway) which a friend picked up for me. I started feeling better the next day after taking the prescribed medication.

Doctor on Demand hours of operation are now seven days a week, 24 hours a day. A 15-minute session costs $75 without insurance, which is a bit higher than the average co-pay many patients have for in-office visits.

Doctor On Demand says that it now works with many employers and health plans, and many patients use their insurance to pay for their virtual visits with a Doctor On Demand physician. If paying with insurance, the cost will vary depending on your plan. The cost will be shown prior to scheduling an appointment.

Now, if I start experiencing flu symptoms again this year, I will be immediately accessing my Doctor on Demand,  before I consider any other type of care.

Based on Centers for Disease control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, Doctor on Demand has prepared an assessment to help determine what precautions you should take in the event coronavirus (COVID-19) impacts our community. You can access the online assessment by clicking here and it takes less than two minutes to step though a free survey with a list of questions after which it will provide you with personalized prevention recommendations based on your answers. I was happy to see that my assessed risk was LOW.

If you start experiencing flu or cold symptoms, going first to an on-line resource such as the Doctor on Demand Smartphone App for a video consultation, instead of going to the emergency room or trying for a walk-in appointment with your primary care provider, is a good option. It can give you instant peace of mind through a professional consultation, reduce your risk of becoming exposed to the coronavirus, and free up needed resources for someone who may be critically ill.

Note: According to Vice President Mike Pence, Medicare now pays for telemedicine, which can be an initial way to assess whether your illness is ordinary flu, or something else.