When you have a sick child, you can either bundle them up and take them to a doctor’s office — or you can just sit in front of a screen from the comfort of your own home and get quality medical care in the form of a telehealth visit. But you don’t have to tell that to Dr. Laura Purdy. Known as America’s Doctor (she’s licensed to practice medicine in all 50 states!) Dr. Purdy is a vocal advocate for telehealth. We recently spoke with the mom of four about being a doctor for the people, how not every area has the same access to medical care, and how to keep your kids from getting sick (just joking).
How did you get to be America’s Doctor? Was it a goal or did it happen organically?
It happened because it was to be helpful to the companies I was working with. I have done telehealth for 6-7 years now, but the companies are nationwide. So from the technical perspective, it doesn’t look any different if it’s a patient in Alaska or a patient in New York City. It started that it would be helpful if I had 50 state licenses. Most of them were acquired for me by the companies that I worked for.
What is the process like to become licensed in all 50 states?
It’s a nightmare if I can say that. I could say that I probably could set the Guinness World Record for having the most background checks done. Medical licensing is done at the state level so federal has no purview over it. Every state has its own form, it might be paper or electronic — several of them want letters of recommendation. I would bet I’ve done 20 sets of fingerprints. FBI background checks, state background checks, and then there’s letters of reference from your school, and it always has to be a sealed envelope directly from the school.
So are you actually practicing in all 50 states? Do you have patients all over the map?
All over the map. I have a virtual primary care clinic that I run, and my patients are from all 50 states.
Do you find that there’s a difference treating someone in Alaska from someone who is in Arkansas, for example?
Not in a people sense. I can hardly tell where they’re from, but there are some resource constraints. So I need to know, for example, that it’s really hard in Oklahoma to get mental health care. They might need to drive 2-3 hours to get to a psychiatrist or the proximity to a 24-hour pharmacy. Those types of logistical considerations (like where the closest hospital is) are important because you can’t do everything through telehealth. It’s critical to know what those constraints are because not everyone has equal access to resources.
It’s something you can take for granted.
It’s true; not every region is resource rich.
Now what is your area of specialty?
I’m family medicine, so I can see all ages and just about any issue that people have, from birth until late years of life — even pregnancy. I’m still qualified to handle some things in pregnancy although I don’t do deliveries anymore.
Now, telehealth has become so pivotal in terms of people getting the care that they need, particularly during Covid. But now as things are returning somewhat to normal, are you seeing a decline in the number of telehealth visits?
I would love to see more pediatrics, honestly. I think that overall adoption is much better, as well as general trust in telehealth and what it is and what it does. Prior to the pandemic, a. lot of people were skeptical; they would say things like, “Is this real?” But now the attitude has shifted to, “Oh my God, I’m so glad this is available” and “Thank you for saving me a trip to the doctor!”
Now, there’s still some things that we’re not good at, especially in pediatrics, like ear infections and throat issues, whether it’s strep or mono or tonsillitis. Kids aren’t always good at explaining what they’re feeling so we rely on that physical exam more. I think that we still have a long way to go when it comes to the diagnostic capabilities in telehealth.
We are right in the middle of the holidays — and everyone is getting sick. How do you avoid that, if possible?
Oh, my goodness, isn’t that the million-dollar question, though? To an extent, you can’t. A lot of it, you just can’t. Kids are picking each other’s noses at school, I don’t know! They’re in close proximity to each other; they’re sharing the same air and the same germs. Obviously, anything that you can do that’s preventative, like vaccinations. I’m a huge proponent of that. And that counts as prevention. Teaching hand hygiene and good habits and then modeling that at home. So if kids know that it’s important to wash their hands before they eat, that’s huge. Not every viral infection is airborne — a lot of infections kids can get on their hands. Stomach bugs, with vomiting and diarrhea, usually come from dirty hands that should have been washed.
Influenza is a thing; RSV is an infection in kids as well as strep throat, pink eye, and mono. There’s so much more, and all of it will keep you out of school these days. Historically we would go to school with a cold, right or wrong, but not so much anymore. If you have the symptoms, it’s best that you don’t share them.
As a medical doctor, how does it influence your own parenting?
Oh goodness, in so many ways. Of all the things that come with being a physician, I think the way it affects my parenting is the most valuable asset to me, above everything else. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a parent and not have this baseline knowledge. You’re right, because if my child has ear pain, I grab my otoscope and I look in there. I don’t write prescriptions for my family because that’s not ethical, but I do use telemedicine and we do have a nurse practitioner who I can proactively reach out to and say, “Hey, we’re getting ready to go to hiking this weekend. Can I get some steroid cream in case anyone gets poison ivy?” I have the ability to anticipate what the needs might be. I don’t wait for them to get sick; I expect that they’re going to get sick. Stuff is always going to happen, and when it does, I’m ready!