Bert Marx (Virtual Care)

Ellensburg's Bert Marx is a poker buff who plays regularly with friends. Is he good? He laughs out loud and flashes a grin. "No," he says. "That's why they keep asking me back. Sometimes when I can't make it I feel like I should just run by and leave my money."

Tall and genial, the 67-year-old Marx has an easy-going demeanor, and a deep appreciation for the good things in life, especially family and friends. And though Marx may love poker, he doesn't gamble when it comes to healthcare. He wants thorough, competent, efficient treatment and if it comes served up with a dose of personal warmth so much the better.

He got all of that when he turned to KVH Virtual Care, an online service of Kittitas Valley Healthcare that enables patients with minor illnesses to obtain treatment from the comfort of their own homes.

The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is staffed by healthcare providers who are board-certified in family medicine.

Flash back to a weekend in June when Marx found himself battling symptoms of a cold. "It started showing up on Friday," he said. "By Saturday my throat was hurting and I had a little cough." By late Saturday afternoon his right eye was "matted" closed and his temperature had climbed to 102.

Marx called his daughter, Carrie Barr, an employee at KVH who dropped by and told him she thought he might have pinkeye, a contagious eye condition, and needed to see a doctor.

But Marx is no fan of emergency room visits for minor complaints. They can involve long waits while doctors attend to patients with more serious issues and they tie up resources, he says.

Barr suggested KVH Virtual Care and called the number on the KVH website. "It was about a 20 minute wait for the doctor to call back," Marx says. "At the same time, it wasn't bad. I was sitting in my easy chair."

Using FaceTime, an app that makes video exams possible over computers, cell phones and other devices, the doctor guided Marx through a self-exam, diagnosed pinkeye and a cold, prescribed medication for his eyes and sent the prescription to a local pharmacy.

Marx says the virtual visit took "no more than 15 minutes," cost him $40 and made him a fan. "It was fabulous," he says. "I love that doctor. I should send him a 'thank you' note, he was that good. He was just so personable and knew exactly what he was doing. As thorough as that exam was, it felt like I was in an exam room. But it was nice to be sitting in my own home."

Marx also likes the idea he wasn't "plugging up a bed" in the emergency room.

Would he try it again? You bet, he says – and he's not talking poker. "I would use it again in a heartbeat," he says. "It was so easy and so efficient – and I like efficiency."