How doctors are using telemedicine to help allergy sufferers

With spring allergies in full bloom, the wait to see a specialist in person can be several weeks but scheduling a same-day visit through telemedicine is virtually a click away.

An explosion of tree pollen this spring is setting off Dylan Kirch's allergies. Instead of taking him for an office visit, Dylan's mother Lisa sits with him at the kitchen table for a virtual visit over video with pediatrician Sylvia Romm. 

Dylan explains his symptoms to Dr. Romm, showing her his eyes and inside his mouth — where a doctor can see telltale signs that someone is suffering from allergies. All this without missing a day of school or, for Lisa, missing a day of work.

Over the past five years, allergist Tania Elliot has made about 7,000 remote house calls. It allows her to pick up clues she wouldn't see in her office. 

"It's about having carpets, having drapes, curtains, decorative pillows, upholstered furniture.… Those are the things we discuss when we talk about the first line of treatment, which is allergen avoidance," Elliot said. 

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Lisa Kirch shows Dr. Sylvia Romm her son's eyes over video chat to help diagnose and treat his allergy symptoms. 

CBS News


A recent study led by Dr. Elliot identified potential benefits of telemedicine including faster diagnosis and medication prescribing, lower out-of-pocket costs, and access for people in remote areas. They also found face-to-face screen time might improve the doctor-patient relationship.

"It's all about building rapport and active listening and facial expressions that then establish that connection with a patient," Elliot said.

The telehealth industry is expected to grow to $36 billion by 2020. Right now, 34 states and Washington D.C. require insurance companies to cover virtual visits the same as they do for office visits. But of course, services like shots still have to take place in person.