FARGO — Nichole Klemz has three young children and that means frequent trips to the doctor’s office.
Or at least that used to be the case.
Klemz is an early adopter of a new service made available by Sanford Health that uses a gadget paired with a smartphone or tablet that can enable a diagnosis for minor health complaints without visiting a doctor in a clinic.
The device, called TytoHome, sells for $299 and can be purchased through Sanford or BestBuy, either online or in Sanford Healthcare Accessories locations. Sanford is the exclusive provider of TytoHome in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.
The kit, which fits into a case that isn’t much larger than an electric razor, includes handheld devices for examining the heart, lungs, skin, ears, throat, abdomen and taking body temperature.
Klemz is one of 200 to 300 Sanford employees who experimented with TytoHome for six months before it launched for general use. The service now is available for video health visits 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.
She’s used it for checkups involving possible pink eye, rash, cold, fever — and, on Christmas morning, to rule out an ear infection.
“It’s been a life-saver,” Klemz said, referring to the convenience of not having to make frequent trips to the clinic, or even emergency room, when problems arise late at night. “It was a really tough flu season.”
The home kit includes a high-resolution camera, thermometer, tongue depressor as well as otoscope and stethoscope adapters.
“If you can use a smartphone, you can use this,” said Klemz, who is a registered nurse and directs Sanford’s women’s health services. The setup was simple and took about 20 minutes, she said.
“It walks you through every step,” Klemz said.
Dr. Doug Griffin, medical director of Sanford’s Fargo region, has tried the TytoHome service both as a patient and as a physician.
“The quality is actually quite impressive,” he said, noting the image that shows up on the doctor’s screen is high-resolution, with lots of detail. “You can listen to the heart and lungs as well.”
Sanford is one of the first health systems, if not the first, to make TytoHome available to patients, Griffin said. Sanford has been working with TytoCare, the Israeli firm that makes the home kit, for about two years to evaluate its effectiveness and usefulness, he said.
The first step was to ensure that the device can provide clinical quality. “That was the No. 1 concern from a clinical standpoint,” Griffin said.
Also, he added, “We wanted to make sure we could get things connected seamlessly through our electronic medical records.”
The cost of a doctor’s visit using TytoHome is $59. Some insurers pay at least part of the cost, if they cover video doctor’s visits.
TytoHome is one of a number of methods that are becoming available to make accessing care more convenient for patients. Some, like TytoHome, pair with smartphones, Griffin said.
“I think we’ll continue to see growth in video visits and virtual visits,” he said. “We hope it’s very widely accepted. We need to make it useful for patients.”