You’re never too old to learn a few new tricks. Just ask Maria Velez, a 100-year-old Sharp Rees-Stealy patient who lives in Dulzura, 10 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
For the past two-plus years, Maria has been treated by Dr. Tommy Korn, an ophthalmologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. Maria has experienced serious eye issues, including a cornea transplant and loss of sight from macular degeneration. According to Dr. Korn, her vision is “very fragile” and any eye discomfort causes her stress and anxiety.
In September 2020, Maria needed to be treated for pain in her eye caused by an infection. The usual procedure would be for Maria’s daughter to leave work and bring her mother in for her appointment at the Sharp Rees-Stealy eye clinic at Sharp Memorial Outpatient Pavilion in San Diego, 40 minutes away from her home.
But Dr. Korn, who has been leading a FaceTime video visit pilot project with Sharp HealthCare and Apple, had other ideas.
“How about we do a FaceTime call with her?” he wondered in a conversation with his staff. “It’s super easy, no application needs to be installed and it just works. It’s like the doctor is making a house call.”
Dr. Korn’s vision turned out to be a revelation.
“It was her first time using FaceTime and she’s had another FaceTime appointment since then,” says Maria’s granddaughter, Maria Mendez. “She likes these appointments a lot because she doesn’t have to travel. Plus, Dr. Korn is very nice, very professional and always gives my grandma plenty of time.”
To coordinate the visit, Dr. Korn calls the granddaughter via FaceTime, who then holds the phone in front of her grandmother so Dr. Korn can get an up-close look at the eye.
“The high-definition iPhone camera provides a super clear view of the eye,” explains Dr. Korn. “Enough to tell me if there is a problem and whether or not the patient needs to be driven to the office to see me or just needs some reassurance.”
Dr. Korn is now conducting FaceTime appointments with patients of all ages, provided they have an iPhone, iPad or Apple computer.
Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has played a huge role in the growth of virtual appointments.
“Before COVID, video calls were a rarity,” says Dr. Korn. “Since then, they are now considered an essential part of our cutting-edge care. It’s amazing how a pandemic can lead to innovation and a change in the perception of care.”
For patients like Maria Velez, who have embraced this technology, these FaceTime appointments have been a blessing. For starters, they are extremely easy to facilitate with no app to download. And Maria can experience the appointment from the comfort of her own home, sparing her family the long drive into the doctor’s office from Dulzura. This is not lost on her granddaughter.
“For patients of a similar age, I would say don’t be afraid about using technology,” says Maria Mendez. “Today, things are very advanced and very helpful. We are very grateful to Dr. Korn because since day one, he has made us feel like we are a very important part of his family.”