He’ll tell you he’s “a pretty average guy.”

Don’t fall for it.

There’s little “average” about a guy who can nurture a happy marriage, raise a new daughter, work a full-time job at an EMS company, moonlight as a firefighter, and then meet the endless demands of life.

And, quite frankly, the average man does not say things like this: “My biggest hobby is spending time with my family.”

Those are the words of an above-average man.

Douglas Tawney, 31, is decidedly above average. He lives with his wife and daughter in Casnovia, Michigan, an impossibly tiny village dropped like an islet into the vast farm fields of northwest Kent County.   

As Tawney describes the place: “We call it Kazz. We have a bar. And a post office.”

For all that a place like Kazz lacks in excitement and bustle—it oozes Midwestern averageness—a guy like Tawney can make up for it with sheer industriousness.

“I’m a very busy gentleman,” Tawney said. “Between work and the fire department—and then obviously I have a 13-month-old daughter, and my wife as well—we’re a busy family.”

In meeting the obligations of parenthood, husbandhood and work, however, Tawney has on occasion been known to shrug off his own medical concerns as long as possible. 

Fever? Wait it out. Skin rash? It’ll clear up. Muscle ache? Muscle through it.   

“I’m one of those individuals, unfortunately, who waits until the last second,” he said.

That’s what he did this past year when he developed a skin condition. He let it go as long as he could, and when he finally tried to arrange a visit to a primary care physician, the scheduler told him there wasn’t a slot that suited his schedule. 

Unless, the scheduler said, he was interested in “this other possibility.”

The Spectrum Health app.

“Sure, whatever gets me in,” he remembers telling her.

Next thing he knew, he was at work in Grand Rapids, holding up his cell phone so he could have a quick little video chat with a doctor at a nearby Spectrum Health office.

“It’s awesome,” Tawney said. “My needs were addressed immediately and it was so convenient. I mentioned to them that they should promote it a lot more. I hadn’t even heard of it before.” 

The Spectrum Health app is an umbrella term for a triad of services that let patients use technology to quickly and remotely connect with Spectrum Health’s doctors, said Tracey Burke, former director of the telemedicine service. 

The services—On-Demand Care, Specialty Care, and Remote Monitoring—are revolutionizing the way patients like Tawney, and many others, approach medical care. 

What’s right for you?

The Spectrum Health app provides three types of virtual services to meet patient needs:

On-Demand Care: Remote video or email visits, strictly for patients with low-acuity needs such as cough, cold, flu, headache, heartburn, allergies, bites or stings, back pain, nausea or vomiting, pink eye, rashes or hives, sinus issues, sprains and strains, or urinary problems.   

Specialty Care: A patient visits, in person, a nearby Spectrum Health regional hospital or clinic to connect via video with a specialist at another Spectrum Health location. A Specialty visit pertains to more serious or specialty matters such as cardiology, diabetes, behavioral health, infectious disease, wound care, vascular services and oncology.

Remote Monitoring: Spectrum Health deploys devices to a patient’s home so the hospital system can monitor the patient’s important vital signs remotely. The service is designed for patients who are chronically ill with conditions such as congestive heart failure, diabetes, asthma and COPD.

On-Demand Care

On-Demand Care, the service Tawney used, lets patients with less serious conditions connect to a medical provider via remote video or email, right from their home or workplace.

A video visit costs $45, while an email visit—you connect to a doctor via email and the doctor sends back medical advice—is $25. In most cases, the wait time for On-Demand Care is less than 30 minutes. The service is offered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Tawney said he called in by phone and was connected to a coordinator, who took down his particulars—insurance, identity and such—before connecting him to a doctor.

He then used his cell phone camera to connect live to the doctor. 

“It was like a web interface where I could see her, she could see me,” he said. “All on my cell phone. It worked well. She was set back enough from the camera that I could see her, and she was able to talk to me and walk me through the process.” 

It played out just like a normal doctor’s visit, he said. The doctor could see his skin condition—it was a relatively minor issue—and prescribed him medication. 

“It wasn’t very long, but long enough that my issues were addressed,” he said. “Really easy to use. I’d think that even people who aren’t so technology-literate would be able to do this as well.”

Tawney said he has encountered elderly residents who can scarcely leave their homes in the dead of a West Michigan winter. 

“As firefighters, we’d see that all the time,” he said. “You have individuals who just can’t get out of the house, whether it’s mobility issues or they’re bed-bound or whatever the case may be.

“This is a great program for them, where they can be seen (by a doctor) even if they can’t make it to the office,” he said. “Even the trip from the doorstep to the car can be dangerous for some of these individuals. If they can instead do something about it in the comfort of their home, it’s going to benefit them and help them avoid injury.”

Burke said that On-Demand visits are only for patients whose ailments are not life-threatening. The visits are not recorded, although pertinent details are still documented as they would be with an in-person visit.

“If it’s a low-acuity visit … they can be treated from the comfort of their own home,” Burke said. “We don’t make the patient go anywhere to get their care—we go to them.” 

For patients with more serious needs, Spectrum Health offers other high-tech solutions that can still help them save time.

Specialty Care

Specialty Care allows certain patients to visit their nearest Spectrum Health regional hospital or clinic, where staff can help them connect through video to a specialist in Grand Rapids.

The cost of a Specialty Care visit is the same as an in-person visit.

The intent is to help patients avoid long drives to a specialist, cutting down on time and travel expenses.

Burke’s example: An oncology patient who lives in Reed City would historically have to drive to the Spectrum Health Cancer Center in Grand Rapids for a follow-up appointment with an oncologist, even after they’ve completed treatment.

That’s an hour drive.   

“How often do you have to take time off work to meet with a doctor and they say, ‘Oh, you look great, thanks for coming,’” Burke said. “And you’re going, ‘Oh my gosh, I just took time off work and navigated your hospital system, drove an hour, paid for parking and spent time in the waiting room … and now you’re telling me I’m good to go, thanks for coming?’”

But, indeed, patients in the far-flung reaches of Michigan have been forced to travel a great distance for short followups.

“As clinicians, we’re embarrassed that we’re making you do all that,” Burke said. “We’re now saying to that patient, ‘You can go to the (Spectrum Health) Susan P. Wheatlake Cancer Center in Reed City, and we’ll have your visit virtually, via video … with your pulmonary oncologist in Grand Rapids.” 

Remote Monitoring

Spectrum Health can also deploy an array of devices to a chronically ill patient’s home, allowing the hospital system to monitor the patient’s vital signs remotely.

“We try and keep them healthier in their home,” Burke said. “We have an air traffic control room, if you will.

“We know how much they weigh every day, we know what their blood pressure is, we know what their temperature is,” she added. “We can see if a patient has gained 3 pounds—a congestive heart failure patient—and we can call them and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on Sue? Are you feeling OK?’”

Here again, it helps patients avoid costly trips to a doctor’s office. 

“We catch them before they have to come into the hospital,” Burke said.

With all three components of the telemedicine service, Spectrum Health uses a secure system to connect patients with providers, Burke said.

“This truly is changing the way we deliver care,” Burke said. “The reality is, it’s about opening up access, lowering the cost of care and making it more convenient for our patients.”