Long-Distance Doctoring

It’s hard to really be there for anyone, when it’s over the phone.


We traveled to Hubby’s hometown this weekend for our annual Memorial day weekend family get-together, and also to spend quality time with his mom, who has had serious health issues recently.

When she first became ill a few weeks ago, it wasn’t clear to anyone what was going on. There were consults and diagnostics. We heard about how hard it was for our family to find any provider on the inpatient floors who could speak with them, and then, who had any answers.

I felt badly, pretty useless. After all, it’s one of the things I like about my job and try to do well: track down specialists and results, and translate what’s going on for the patient and their family.

But, things stabilized by the time we got there, and we enjoyed a calm weekend. A really wonderful and beautiful weekend, truly.

We got back last night, and then, this morning, things went sour. Hubby’s mom is back at the hospital, and again, it isn’t clear to anyone what’s going on. There’s consults and diagnostics. There’s no answers yet. We’re worried, and I feel badly. Hubby may need to travel back tonight. We aren’t really sure.

Various family members have been calling and texting with data. I’m over here trying to solve the medical mystery with these bits and pieces of information. It’s not working.

And, I’m not doing much better for my own patients. Just before we left town, a longtime patient of mine, a very lovely person with a long list of serious medical problems who has almost died about eleven times, was admitted to our hospital. Usually when this patient comes in, I get pretty involved with their stay, as there’s a big team and the issues are complex. I’ve even been involved from vacation, when I had followed the case in the hospital for a number of days before I had to leave town. That time, I had a handle on things.

This admission, all weekend long, I followed from afar, via emails and occasionally logging in to the record. I didn’t feel like I had enough of an understanding to be able to offer the patient or the family any useful information.

Unfortunately, no one else did either, and today, the family paged my office looking for answers. We only have outpatient coverage, and there was no one in my office who would be able to provide any insight… besides me. I’ve known this particularly complicated patient for eight years, for goodness’ sake.

Even though I’m home for another day of vacation (and a heavy list of home projects to tackle), I vaulted myself into the case, looking up labs and reading notes, emailing and paging specialists.

I’ve now spoken with the patient and the family, and things are sorted, at least for the next twenty-four hours. Tomorrow, we have a meeting set up, and I’ll feel much better being able to see for myself what is going on, and to speak face-to-face with these folks.

Unfortunately, we still have the mystery of Hubby’s mother, and though we understand things are relatively stable, we don’t have a diagnosis. It’s driving me crazy.

It’s just so much easier in person…


1 thought on “Long-Distance Doctoring”

  • Nothing replaces the personal touch of everything we do. There is a role in telemedicine but it is definitely not a replacement for a face-to-face encounter.

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