CHICAGO, IL — The use of telehealth appointments during the pandemic has ushered in a new dawn of virtual care. States have eased restrictions and providers have boosted staff to handle the increase in online care. But it’s not just routine appointments anymore. Sometimes they provide the first stages of emergency care, and for one man, it literally saved his life.
While hiding out during the pandemic at his cabin in Michigan’s upper peninsula, Jack Crowe started feeling ill.
“I just felt a little something in my neck and I, all of a sudden, I felt like I had a chest cold,” he said.
He feared it might be COVID-19 at first, so the next morning, he decided to make the 400-mile drive back home to Chicago with his wife. Feeling worse, he made a telehealth appointment. It was his first-ever.
“And about five minutes later, I was connected to a nurse practitioner,” said Crowe.
On the other side of the camera was Rush University Medical Center telehealth nurse practitioner Nicole Marks.
“Jack had some shortness of breath and chest tightness, and so, that's a red flag for us, that a patient needs to be seen immediately and can't wait to be seen,” said Marks.
“She said, 'If you don't, I want to make sure you call 911 if you have to pull over,'” said Crowe.
That exchange made Crowe take her advice. He stopped at an emergency room in Wisconsin, where he was diagnosed with an aortic dissection.
The rare condition can be catastrophic. Forty percent of patients die almost instantly, and the risk of death increases by 3 to 4 percent every hour the condition is left untreated.
“I went against my own instincts, which was to keep driving to Chicago another four hours. And if I had done that, I would have died," Crowe said.
Crowe underwent emergency open-heart surgery and is now on the mend. Weeks later, he had a chance to meet the virtual nurse who saved his life.
“We literally had talked to each other for five minutes,” said Crowe. “I have to say, we both had tears in our eyes.”
“To actually get to see him in person and meet him and his wife was wonderful. It was a privilege,” said Marks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), telehealth use increased by 50 percent in the first quarter of last year and 154 percent during the last week of March 2020 alone.
Ironically, had it not been for the pandemic, Crowe says he would have never thought to book a virtual appointment.
“Being in a pandemic, being in rural Wisconsin, far away from, I thought, from any kind of health care, and it was it was an option that I just never occurred to me," Crowe said.
He knows how vital telehealth can be now, and he's fortunate he did it.