Coronavirus accelerates need for telemedicine

Amid widespread coronavirus, the CDC is urging people to use "tele-medicine" options. 

Consulting with a doctor by voice or video - at least at first- will keep people in, and keep illness from spreading. 

"People often choose us because it's inconvenient to see a doctor, or hard to get in, " said Dr. Davis Lui, chief clinical officer for Lemonaid Health.

Lemonaid is a San Francisco startup, launched five years ago.

On their website or app, users click on the ailment that is bothering them, and are connected to a doctor or nurse practitioner. 

The company has 13 clinicians across the country, each fielding dozens of calls daily. 

"What it really does is break away all those barriers to see a doctor," explained Lui, noting patients can be seen on their own schedule, without taking time off from work, and come away with advice, even a diagnosis. 

Labs can be ordered, and prescriptions written too. 

"I think what coronavirus is demonstrating is that there's a way to provide care that's convenient, affordable, and accessible in a way that most Americans haven't thought of until now," said Lui.      

For clinics and hospitals, telemedicine allows pre-screening so that medical staff can concentrate on patients who need care most. 

During the coronavirus outbreak, it also reduces the risk of exposure to personnel. 

"It's a savings to the patient, less strain on the healthcare system, and less stress on providers themselves," said Dr. David Trabazo at the U.C. Davis Health. 

The medical center is dedicating three doctors to handle video visits each day. 

"I can see the patient, see their speech pattern, and the symptoms manifesting that are visible to me," said Trabazo.

One caller on his screen was suffering a cough and fever and feared he had COVID-19.

Tests showed it was seasonal flu. 

 "With these symptoms, you don't really know," said patient Ian Catangay. 

"If you go in there to the clinic you don't know if you'e exposing yourself to other people in the waiting room." 

In declaring a national emergency, President Trump praised tele-medicine. 

"What they've done with tele-health is incredible, it gives remote doctors visits and hospital check-ins," he said, while also promising to ease federal licensing requirements, "so that doctors from other states can provide services in states with the greatest need."  

Lui admits there are regulatory obstacles.

"The challenge is the rules are state by state so that a doctor licensed in California can't provide care to someone in Texas, for example."

Some providers accept insurance. 

Lemonaid does not, and charges a $45 fee for a consultation. 

Patients answer questions about health history and how they are feeling before the session. 

If the symptoms are too severe, the site urges them to seek in-person care.

But telemedicine rests on the notion that good advice is good advice- however it's delivered. 

"Don't forget to wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water and stay safe!", concluded Dr. Lui, at the end of his chat.  

Telemedicine makes up just one percent of all doctor's office visits in the U.S. 

It's expected to gain popularity as people try it by necessity during the coronavirus crisis, then stay with it later.  

Debora Villalon is a reporter forKTVU.  Email Debora at and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU