When Haley Wilson's 5-year-old son began vomiting, crying and complaining of a sore throat one recent Saturday morning, she didn't know what to do. Wilson figured her son Jake had a strep infection. But living in, as she describes it, "the middle of nowhere" in rural Encino, Wilson was more than 60 miles from the nearest emergency room. "My option was to take him to the emergency room in Santa Rosa and wait there for 10 hours," Wilson says, adding that Jake had a history of getting strep throat and she figured he needed a prescription for antibiotics. hen Wilson's mother got on the Internet and found a solution: MeMD, which offers doctors' visits and urgent care services over the Internet, webcam and telephone 24/7.
Wilson took 15 minutes to complete a secure, online medical history for her son, punched in her credit card number and remitted $39.95. Within 20 minutes, Albuquerque physician John Vigil contacted her. Via a web conference, Vigil asked questions and prescribed an antibiotic. He emailed the prescription to Wilson's pharmacy, and by Monday, Jake was feeling better. "It was wonderful," Wilson says, "especially if you live in rural areas where there aren't many medical services available. No child ever gets sick during the week. They always get sick when everything is closed."
Carlos Armijo, a 34-year-old IT worker in Albuquerque, used MeMD on a recent weekend when he developed a sinus infection. "I've got insurance and I called my doctor on a Thursday and they said I wouldn't be able to see him until the following Wednesday," Armijo says. "My option was to go to an urgent care office, but that costs $150 for a visit. "I Googled âÂÂUrgent care in Albuquerque' and this service was fourth on the list. I wondered if it was for real. It had a local address, so I filled out the online form and within 15 to 20 minutes, I got a call from Dr. Vigil," Armijo says. "It was like a standard office visit. He had me pressing my sinuses in different places, and he prescribed an antibiotic, which was at my pharmacy in 15 minutes. I was psyched about it, and I've been telling my friends about it."
MeMD is a three-week-old Phoenix-based company founded by Dr. John Shufeldt, an emergency room physician, who founded NextCare Urgent Care, a national urgent care practice. "For $39.95, patients can be seen virtually anywhere and receive a prescription," Shufeldt said. "Right now, we're in 12 states and we've had about 500 patients. I've been doing emergency room medicine for 26 years, and we see a lot of people who don't need to be there. A lot of times they just need reassurance. People who know physicians call them and ask, 'What do you think about this?' You reassure them and they feel better. This is what you do if you don't know a physician to call." MeMD partners with local doctors who pay a fee for the online links, forms and services. The service's doctors can treat anything from abrasions and allergies, fevers, lice, headaches and frostbite to respiratory infections.
Vigil, who started Doctor on Call in Albuquerque in 2004, went live with his MeMD site April 13. He said he can treat about 70 percent of the symptoms for which people go to urgent care centers. As of April 27, Vigil had three MeMD patients. He's the only doctor in New Mexico who is with the service, and thinks it will be good for people in the state's rural areas. "We've got Las Cruces, Santa Fe and Farmington. Apart from that, it's a very rural state, and many of the smaller communities don't have urgent care centers," Vigil said. Wilson said rural residents need more health care options. Once Vigil submitted her prescription to her pharmacy, she had to drive 65 miles to Edgewood to pick it up. "We're really in the middle of nowhere," she notes.