Kaitlyn Jones left school early one Wednesday in January because she felt awful: headache, body ache, chills, fatigue.

It must be the flu, she thought, noting how some of her fellow cosmetology students were among the many suffering from the virus this year.

She hoped she could get a prescription to treat it. But once she got home and learned she had a 102-degree fever, the last thing she wanted to do was get back into the car and go to the doctor.

So Kaitlyn, 18, took her mom’s advice and pulled up the Spectrum Health app on her iPad.

Within minutes, she was having a video visit with Melissa Wilson, a nurse practitioner with the telemedicine service on the Spectrum Health app.

The service lets anyone in Michigan who has access to a smartphone, tablet or camera-equipped laptop to receive non-emergency care from a Spectrum Health provider on-screen, 24/7.

“It was kind of like FaceTime,” Kaitlyn said. “Super easy.”

No waiting room

After she signed in to the app and picked the next available appointment time—in this case, immediately—Kaitlyn connected via video chat with a Spectrum Health app medical assistant, who got her registered and verified her insurance.

Then Wilson took over the video visit, asking about Kaitlyn’s medical history and walking her through a brief physical exam.

From the comfort of her family’s home in Rockford, Michigan, Kaitlyn checked her neck and ears for tenderness and tried to show Wilson the back of her throat using her iPad’s camera.

“We went through my symptoms together, and then she prescribed Tamiflu,” Kaitlyn said. “She sent it right away from there to the pharmacy, so I was able to get it that night.”

Two days later, she felt well enough to return to class.

Tamiflu, or oseltamivir, is an oral drug that can shorten the duration of seasonal influenza if you take it soon after contracting the illness. It’s not essential for all flu patients, but it was important for Kaitlyn because she has Type 1 diabetes, which puts her at higher risk for complications.

“I thought, we need to nip this in the bud,” said Holly Jones, Kaitlyn’s mom. “With diabetes, it’s just more complicated when they get the flu.”

Kaitlyn’s diabetes diagnosis is only a few months old, making her extra cautious about her health.

“Because I’m so new, I’m hyper aware and really scared of doing anything that would cause my blood sugars to go crazy,” she said.

The idea of sitting in a doctor’s office or urgent care center didn’t sit well with her—or her mom.

“I didn’t want her near the germy waiting room to catch whatever else was in there,” Holly said.

That’s what made the Spectrum Health app visit so ideal.

“I don’t even think you got out of your pajamas,” Holly said to her daughter.

Growing popularity

Kaitlyn’s video visit wasn’t just fast and convenient—at $45, it was also less expensive than a trip to the doctor, an urgent care center or the emergency department.

According to Amanda Reed, the Spectrum Health app’s operations director, each visit saves patients and insurers more than $120, on average, compared to other sources of care.

These cost savings, combined with convenience and quality of care, have propelled the service’s popularity.

“We reached our new high mark on January 24, with 127 patients seen in one day,” Reed said. “We had over 5,000 app downloads in the month of January alone.”

This year’s hard-hitting flu season is a catalyst for the Spectrum Health app’s growth, according to Elizabeth Suing, PA, one of about 30 providers who spend at least part of their time treating patients through the service.

“Right now, over 50 percent of the patients we are seeing in a day are flu patients,” she said.

Many of these are first-time users of the Spectrum Health app.

But Suing predicts they’ll be back the next time they need non-emergency care—treatment for concerns like allergies, back pain, bites and stings, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, sinus problems, sprains and strains, urinary symptoms and more.

“Patients love the telemedicine. They love the convenience of it,” Suing said. “I think it’s the way that the world is going.”

Kaitlyn’s mom, Holly, confirms Suing’s view.

“I recommend it a lot,” she said. “My friends will say, ‘Oh, but I don’t want to go to urgent care,” and I say, ‘Try (it). Download the app. Make an appointment.’”