Arla Dunlop

Her right eye was red, draining and irritated and Arla Dunlop knew she needed to see a doctor.

Dunlop, a registered nurse who is the staff development director at Kittitas Valley Healthcare, suspected bacterial pink eye, a highly contagious eye infection usually curable with 24 hours of antibiotics.

It was Saturday evening. Her doctor's office was closed. No urgent care clinic was available. Her condition, while irritating, hardly merited an emergency room visit.

But Dunlop had an orientation session for new employees scheduled Monday. To miss it would be a burden for others. What to do? For Dunlop, the answer was as close as her computer and the comfort of her own home.

She turned to KVH Virtual Care, a new telemedicine service at Kittitas Valley Healthcare. Launched this spring and staffed by Washington State board-certified physicians and advance practice clinicians, KVH Virtual Care provides virtual visits with healthcare providers via Skype, FaceTime or VideoChat.

The program – essentially a virtual urgent care center – offers treatment for a wide range of common health complaints. “It really was easy,” says Dunlop, who went on to the Kittitas Valley Healthcare site, clicked on the portal for Virtual Care and entered her information.

Minutes later, she was talking on an iPhone to Sharla Peterson, a KVH Virtual Care provider. Peterson, an ARNP, received her master’s degree in nursing from Washington State University, has worked in primary care since 2007 and done virtual care since 2011.

“It felt very local to me,” Dunlop says. “It was someone in my home state. I could relate to where she got her information. I felt like I could trust the system.”

Whatever uncertainty she might have evaporated the minute she heard Peterson's voice. “I could tell how caring and professional she was,” Dunlop says. “I totally relaxed. We're using FaceTime and I'm seeing her and she's seeing me.”

Peterson confirmed Dunlop's history, asked her to pull her eyelid down so she could do a virtual exam, sent a prescription to Dunlop's pharmacy, gave her instructions for care, made sure Dunlop had no questions and then emailed her instructions. She also sent a report to Dunlop's primary care physician.

The whole process took less than 15 minutes and the virtual visit cost $40. The next morning Dunlop picked up her prescription. Monday morning she was back at work handling that orientation program without missing a beat – and that's important, she says. “In a small hospital like this we wear a lot of hats,” she says. “It would be a hardship for others if they had to cover for me.”

As it happens, an administrator was on hand to speak with the new employees and mentioned the Virtual Care program. “I tried it this weekend and it was slick,” Dunlop told him. She lauds the ease with which the system worked and the care she got. “The provider was caring, thorough, professional and gave good information,” Dunlop says. “As a nurse educator, I love that she had helpful tips and clear follow-up information.”

While KVH Virtual Care only is available for people who are in-state at the time of their care, Dunlop wishes a similar program had been available when her daughter Kara (pictured here with Arla) developed a staph infection while on a three-month mission in Burundi, Africa.

“It's so easy to do,” Dunlop says. “We use technology for everything. Why not medicine? It's not replacing going to a doctor. It's an adjunct. “I think there's lot of ways to use it to access healthcare.”