By Sue Murphy
The day before my scheduled semi-annual checkup, the nurse called and asked if I would prefer to see the doctor over the phone. I said, “Sure!” I mean, if you’re trying to avoid getting sick, it makes sense to avoid places where sick people congregate.
After I said that, of course, my brain started downloading images of what a telephone checkup might look like. I’d make sure I was dressed like a fully cognizant adult and stash Dave back in the bedroom so the interview wouldn’t be held with a full-voice barking chorus, but beyond that, I was lost. Would I be expected to supply real data? I had a scale and a blood pressure cuff and a functioning thermometer, but if my doctor wanted to look down my throat, the best I could do would be to hold the phone against my teeth, but unlike the refrigerator, there isn’t a light in my mouth that goes on when I open it (Wouldn’t that be cool, by the way?) so I doubted she would be able to see anything at all. And just for the record, there’s no way to test that.
Even if I stood on the scale in her remote presence, my doctor would still have to rely on me to give her the correct numbers, although I suspect doctors are savvy enough to add five pounds to any self-given weight estimate and add a glass (or two) to the weekly alcohol count, or maybe there’s some kind of screen recognition lie detector app that can tell when someone is cooking the self-report books. Or maybe doctors just figure they’re only responsible for diagnosing the information they’re given and any overages would be determined to be on the patient’s side of the meter in a malpractice court of law.
Tele-dentistry wouldn’t be nearly as doable. Sure, you could open wide for the phone camera, but if you ended up needing some work done, I seriously doubt you’d hear, “OK, Ms. Murphy, now inject the Novocain to the right of the molar. You don’t have Novocain? Oh well, we’ll have to punt. Now, securely grasp the tooth with your ice tongs and just give it a good yank.”
Tele-dermatology? OK with the “rub a little cream on it” issues, but not much else. Tele-podiatry? Again, you can remotely order orthotics, but if you need a bunion removed, you’d be moving into tele-surgery, where you’d have to enlist the help of a trusted friend or family member (really trusted) since you would be out cold … unless you didn’t have any chloroform in the house, and then you’d have to substitute several shots of Jack Daniels (don’t forget to report them to your GP) and hope for the best. Your husband or wife or neighbor Sheila (the one who relies on her 4-year-old grandson to program her phone) would hear, “Now make an incision an inch to the left of the nail bed … no, her left, not yours … well, I suppose if all you have is your Girl Scout pocket knife, it will have to do.”
Luckily, I didn’t need any of that. My GP (also stands for Great Person) appeared right on time, and she was wonderful. She listened to my updates (all truthfully given), called in refills for my ongoing prescriptions and declared me good for another six months.
We’ll have to see what happens when my next appointment rolls around. Maybe the new COVID-19 vaccine will be up and running by then. I wonder if they will be able to give it to you over the phone.