Dr. Robert Conkling, a New Jersey family practice physician, is part of MyCatholicDoctor.com, a nationwide virtual medical practice whose 40-plus medical professionals integrate Catholic spirituality into patient care. CNS photo/courtesy Dr. Robert Conkling

Dr. Robert Conkling, a New Jersey family practice physician, is part of MyCatholicDoctor.com, a nationwide virtual medical practice whose 40-plus medical professionals integrate Catholic spirituality into patient care. CNS photo/courtesy Dr. Robert Conkling

By Kaylynn Ebner | Catholic News Service

Interest in telemedicine and virtual health care has grown steadily among consumers in the United States because of the convenience they offer.

Now, patients interested in combining the accessibility of these services with the unique qualities of Catholic health care have a new option available to them: MyCatholicDoctor.com, a nationwide virtual medical practice whose 40-plus medical professionals integrate Catholic spirituality into patient care.

Launched in January 2019, MyCatholicDoctor was the result of a 10-year discernment process between Connecticut-based Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann, a pediatrician, and her husband, who carefully considered what makes Catholic health care different from secular health care.

“Both focus on virtues like mercy and compassion,” Berchelmann explained. “We believe Catholic health care is so much more than hot-button issues like not prescribing contraception or not offering abortions and euthanasia. We believe in the definition of health care given by Jesus Christ in Luke 10:9, which is to heal the sick and proclaim that the kingdom of God is near.”

Berchelmann was most interested in the virtual health model because she felt it would fill a gap in U.S. health care.

“Many times, there’s a geographical barrier between the people who desire Catholic health care services and the people who are trained and experienced in providing this kind of care,” she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

In addition to having access to health care professionals who practice medicine from a Catholic perspective, MyCatholicDoctor is fundamentally different from the typical telemedicine model where patients dial into a call center, speak to the next-available doctor, and rarely connect with them again.

“That’s not who we are,” said Berchelmann, who emphasizes that MyCatholicDoctors offers a much more personal approach and a deeper connection with patients.

“We want people to identify a provider on our site, read his or her profile, and feel comfortable with the provider before they even give us a name or email address,” she stated, noting that specific health care providers can be seen by appointment or booked through a “see now” request for certain urgent needs.

She added, “We also offer a free 10-minute consultation with a patient’s selected provider so they can talk to them and determine if they are a good fit for their needs.”

Having a personal connection to patients is exactly what drove Dr. Robert Conkling, a New Jersey family practice physician, to join MyCatholicDoctor.

“Medicine isn’t pure science, it’s based on a relationship,” he said. “The real problem with medicine today is that there isn’t a lot of time for physicians to actually to spend with patients. ... Too often, medicine is practiced in a very sterile, businesslike environment.”

Conversely, with the virtual health care model, he can spend more and better quality time with patients, getting to know them, understanding their concern and meeting their medical needs without patients leaving their home, disturbing their travel schedule, or missing work or school.

Exemplifying this personal connection is the offering of Spanish-speaking services by one-third of MyCatholicDoctor providers, including Conkling. “It’s great to offer this to patients. Language is how people relate to each other,” he said.

As for what to expect of a MyCatholicDoctors appointment, health care providers meet with patients through video conferencing, via smart phone, tablet or computer as per the patient’s choice. Medical records can be reviewed online and imaging, blood tests and prescriptions can be ordered remotely.

If in-person visits or surgical care are deemed necessary, patients are referred to a local physician that practices with Catholic principles in mind. Alternatively, patients can travel to a MyCatholicDoctors provider if they choose to.

MyCatholicDoctor offers a variety of services, but Berchelmann said the most popular are the infertility services because there is such a need for it. “The Church’s teachings oppose in vitro fertilization (IVF), but many people simply desire the NaProTechnology because it’s good medicine and it works.”

Kaylynn Ebner writes for The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.