Speaking on a landline, the patient complained of an itchy eye. On the call’s other end, physician Carla Harwell considered the possibilities, from seasonal allergies to vision-damaging herpes. Luckily, the elderly patient’s daughter was visiting during the phone consultation, so Harwell asked her to text a picture of her mom’s eye. The photo shocked Harwell. It was the worst case of bacterial conjunctivitis the doctor had ever seen.
Without the picture, Harwell would have told the octogenarian patient to call back in a few days or come to her office, risking an in-patient visit during the Covid-19 pandemic. She certainly wouldn’t have prescribed the antibacterial eye drops needed to treat the infection. “I probably would not have prescribed anything,” Harwell says. “That’s a scary thought.”
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, more of the nation’s medical care is being delivered by telephone or videoconference,