The stabbing pain that hit Peter Cramer’s lower right abdomen carried enough punch to wake him from a sound sleep on a recent Saturday night.

But go to an emergency room or an urgent care center? No, he decided. He would tough it out until Monday morning and call his doctor.

He figured it might be appendicitis, but his symptoms didn’t match completely with the information he found online. It could also be the flu, he thought.

“I didn’t think it was that painful,” he added. “The pain was manageable.”

Still, it was strong enough to keep him from playing in a soccer game that afternoon. He sat on the sidelines and cheered the team on.

“He absolutely was not acting like his normal energetic self,” one of his teammates, Matt Philpott, noted.

Worried about his friend, Philpott suggested Cramer consider a video visit through the Spectrum Health app so he could get immediate answers from a medical professional, without a hefty price tag.

“That’s not something you want to linger,” Philpott said, recalling Cramer’s apparent pain and discomfort.

‘It sounds like appendicitis’

Cramer followed Philpott’s advice and scheduled a video visit for 4:10 p.m.

He and the Spectrum Health doctor talked for about 10 minutes about his symptoms, when the pains started and how they progressed. The doctor asked him to press on his abdomen to pinpoint the location of the pain. It hurt only on the lower-right.

“He said, ‘It sounds like appendicitis, but we are not going to know until we do a scan,’” Cramer said.

The doctor advised him to go Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital, because he could be admitted quickly and if he needed surgery, that’s where it would be performed.

Spectrum Health app medical assistants do the research to help patients with the next steps after a call. For patients who get prescriptions, they find the closest pharmacy.

For those referred to the emergency department, Spectrum Health app team members identify where they will be seen quickest and pre-register the patient before arrival.

“I got to the hospital and was admitted right away,” Cramer said. “I got a CT scan and it showed my appendix was inflamed, so they scheduled surgery that night. I was in surgery at 9:45 p.m.”

His surgeon removed the appendix laparoscopically. Cramer went home from the hospital at 9:30 Monday morning. Had he followed his original plan, that’s about the time he would have called his doctor’s office.

“It sped up the whole process,” Cramer said. Another bonus was that his video visit would have cost $45 out of pocket, but because he was referred to the emergency room and then admitted to the hospital, he didn’t have co-pays for the Spectrum Health video visit or the ER visit.

For Cramer, a 23-year-old mechanical engineer, the easy access to medical experts via video spared him much pain―and saved a lot of time. And it may have helped him avoid more serious complications.

“In general, delaying care or surgery for appendicitis can potentially lead to a perforation or a more difficult operation,” said Lora Silverman, MD, the surgeon who performed the appendectomy.

Convenient care

The quick response “was great,” Cramer said. “It’s nice to know I can have such ready access to medical professionals.”

His reaction sounds familiar to Amanda Reed, director of operations of the Spectrum Health video visits. Patients often report they appreciate the convenience. Many are initially a bit hesitant about using the service.

“But after the first experience, we receive feedback about how well their video visit went and what a great experience they had,” she said.

Video visits through the Spectrum Health app went live 24/7 in October 2015. Patients can connect with physicians or advance care providers such as physician assistants either through video calls or e-visits with private messages. Anyone in Michigan can receive care through the service. The person does not have to be a Spectrum Health patient.

“They could be traveling here or visiting family,” Reed said. “As long as you are physically in the state of Michigan, you can use (the service).”

Being able to actually talk with somebody who knows what they are doing is nice.

Peter Cramer

Beyond the millennials

After a Spectrum Health app e-visit or video call, the staff sends a record of the visit to the patient’s primary care provider, she said.

“The continuity of care is very important. We can ensure all the providers are on the same page by sending a summary of the patient’s visit to their primary care provider,” Reed said.

Although directors expected the service would appeal largely to millennials, who are most comfortable with the digital connection, they are not seeing an age gap. Many older adults are also using the service.

They also find many patients choose not to make the video call right away. They prefer to schedule it at a convenient time―during their lunch hour or at the end of the work day, for example.

“Patients are really excited and really engaging with using (the Spectrum Health app),” she said. “We are seeing call volumes we didn’t expect to see for another year.”