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JASPER, Ind. (AP) — It wasn’t working for Dr. Timothy Barry.

The Jasper podiatrist was spending hours and hours each day taking patient notes and transferring them into his office’s computer system — an extra load that forced him to stay late at night and also took away from the amount of direct attention he could give patients.

And then, through the magic of the internet, he met Joanna Fajardo.

She’s not your typical medical assistant, and that’s perfectly OK with Barry and his wife and office manager, Susan. Residing in Bulacan, a province of the Philippines, Fajardo beams her face and services 8,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean to an iPad in Barry’s Jasper office Monday through Friday via video calling software. The iPad is almost always in Barry’s hand or positioned in a manner that gives Fajardo a front-row seat to listen and take notes, after which she immediately uploads her work into the doctor’s electronic health record system.

Barry was certainly wary of the potential negative effects of employing a long-distance scribe before Fajardo started working for him about five months ago, but now he can’t imagine working without her.

“I would cry if Joanna wasn’t available,” he said. Her presence has allowed him to lift his face from computer screens and to the eyes of his patients, and she brings a smile to the faces of all the employees at his practice. He isn’t aware of any other area doctors with a virtual assistant.

Barry, who has practiced in Jasper for about a decade, said he’d long been in the market for a medical scribe — someone who records the details of a patient visit — but noted their availability locally is not prevalent and the specialized training required to become one also isn’t readily available.

Online research led him to Hello Rache, a live virtual assistant service tailored specifically for medical professionals. He contacted the company and was immediately impressed with the high wages they pay — Fajardo makes three times more in her virtual job than she did as a registered nurse at a hospital in the Philippines — and hit it off with his now-virtual medical assistant in their first interview. Barry said the cost of hiring Fajardo is about half of the expenses of staffing a traditional assistant at his practice.

Fajardo also relishes the opportunity to work from home. Because of the time difference, she works through the night. But it beats driving two hours to work and she feels a real connection to Barry and his staff.

“Being part of Dr. Barry’s team is one of the best things that happened to me,” she said. “It’s like having a big family. I absolutely love my job.”

Fajardo shares in all the bonuses the other office employees receive and goes on field trips with them to places like the bowling alley when the staff gathers outside the building. She is treated like any member of Barry’s staff, even if her being there is dependent on the iPad.

“The only thing she can’t do is have lunch with us,” Susan said with a laugh. She added that she and her husband would like to visit their assistant someday or fly her to Dubois County.

Even from afar, Fajardo’s effectiveness isn’t hampered. Issues with the internet connection are rare, and troubles with the tablet battery life and microphone sensitivity are nonexistent. The only times Barry can think of when things went wrong are when he’s left Fajardo behind in another room.

As far as how the patients feel about Fajardo’s electronic presence in the office, Fajardo is often a talking point in a good way. Many are enamored by her — so much so that sometimes Barry has to remind the patients they’re in his office to receive medical treatment.

Others choose to facilitate as little conversation as possible with her. But that is fine with Barry and Fajardo because it gives the assistant space to do her job.

“It’s fun with the patients, but we’re busy at the same time,” Barry said. “There’s not a lot of time for interacting. There’s not down time. She’s working the whole time.”

Life with Fajardo is better all-around for the Barrys, and neither party plans on ending their relationship anytime soon.

Even if she were to leave, Dr. Barry could contract another virtual assistant from Hello Rache. In addition to doing scribe work, the company also has virtual medical assistants who work in back offices. Barry said he knows at least one other doctor in Indiana who is looking into the service and expects more to flock to it.

“It’s a universal problem — trying to hire someone to do this job,” he said.

But the Barrys have found their perfect fit.

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Source: Dubois County Herald

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Information from: The Herald, http://www.dcherald.com