Under My Skin

The joys of telemedicine


Another great morning, seeing patients in the comfort of quarantine!

Here goes. I’ll invite Gretchen by text: 617-555-5555. “TOO LONG.” How can 10 digits be too long? Trying again: 617-555-5555. “TOO LONG!” What the heck, let me leave off the last digit: 617-555-555. “TOO SHORT.”

Never mind, I’ll invite her by email.

Five minutes have gone by. Better call to see if she got the invite.

“Hello, is this Gretchen? Don’t hang up, I’m not a telemarketer! This is Dr. Rockoff. I sent you an invitation for our computer visit.

“You got it, great. Yes, you have to click on it to sign in. I know, your appointment’s at 8:30. It’s now 8:28. Let’s start early, why not?

“Hi, there! I can see you. Can you hear me? You’re nodding and your lips are moving. I can’t hear you. Did you enable your microphone?

“Nope, still can’t hear. I’ll call your cell, and we’ll talk that way.

“Yes, it’s me, Dr. Rockoff. What’s that? You enabled the microphone along with your video when you logged on? Well, there we go. How can I help today?

“You want a refill on your tretinoin gel for age management? Not a problem. Let’s see, you’ve been using it since 1996. No, you look great! Not a day over 76, really! I’ll have the staff escribe it right over.

“Okay, take care. Three years should be about right. Happy 80th!”

Wonder what happened there. Maybe things will go better for the next patient. Okay, I’m emailing an invite to Rob.

There he is! “Hi. Can you see me? Hear me? Nope, can’t hear you. Let me just call your cell.”

Okay, 972-555-5555. Ringing ... oh no, right to voicemail. “You have reached 972-555-5555. The mailbox is full and cannot accept messages. Please try some other time.”

“Okay, I’m back with you on the screen, Rob. Nope, still can’t hear you. I tried your cell but it went to voicemail. Yes, I see you’re holding the phone in your hand. Let me try you again.

Dr. Alan Rockoff, now semiretired, after 40 years of practice in Brookline, Mass. He served on the clinical faculty at Tufts University, Boston, and taught senior medical students and other trainees for 30 years.

Dr. Alan Rockoff

“972-555-5555. Right to voicemail. Doesn’t your phone ring? You never make voice calls, only send texts? Look, please call me: 781-555-5555, write it down.

“Excellent, we’re in business. You’re worried about a mole that’s changing. You sent a photo to the office. Great, I’ll look right now on your record ... nope, not uploaded. Can you email me the photo? Please write down my email address: [email protected]now. Got that? Okay, please send the picture ...

“Returned as undeliverable? Show me what you typed ... Oh, wait. It’s ‘telemedicine,’ not ‘TellaMedicine.’ ” Yeah, that should do it.

“Okay, got the picture. You do fabulous super-closeups! Is that your navel next to it? Your left nostril? Okay. You tried to razor off the hair growing out it? Yes, that could account for the bleeding. Tell you what, go easy on it for the next 2 weeks, and send me another picture. Same email address.

“You have another question? Sure. You want a refill of your clindamycin gel because the tube from 2013 ran out? Guess you haven’t grown out of your acne yet. Sure, happy to send it in for you. Same pharmacy we have on file? You’re bunking with your parents in Wichita? No problem. Just need the pharmacy name and street. Boston, Wichita, whatever.

“Sure, happy to help. Enjoy your stay with your parents. You’ve been there 4 months? Are you cleaning your room? Mostly? Good. Take care. I’ll respond to your email in 2 weeks. Meantime, you might empty out your full voicemail box ... Oh, right, your generation only texts ...”

Okay, one more. Here’s Henrietta. I emailed her an invitation ... Holy Cow, she’s checked in! Let’s see, click “Join.” I can see her!

“Henrietta, is that you? Can you hear me? You can? You can hear me! Henrietta can hear me! And I can hear her!

“Yes, Henrietta, I’m all right. Just doing cartwheels around my study. Between COVID and the 95-degree heat and 100% humidity, it’s all the exercise I get.

“How can I help you today?

“Henrietta? HENRIETTA! Where have you gone, Henrietta?”


Maybe it’s time to go back to the office. A face shield and HAZMAT suit are sounding better all the time.

Dr. Rockoff, who wrote the Dermatology News column “Under My Skin,” is now semiretired after 40 years of practice in Brookline, Mass. He served on the clinical faculty at Tufts University, Boston, and taught senior medical students and other trainees for 30 years. His second book, “Act Like a Doctor, Think Like a Patient,” is available online. Write to him at [email protected]

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