Health: Dial-Up Doctor

The next time your family physician tells you to take two aspirin and call him in the morning, he might not be kidding. A new study from Kaiser Permanente shows that urinary-tract infections, which account for more than 8 million doctor's visits each year, can be managed just as easily over the telephone. That's great news for sufferers. "The diagnosis is based almost exclusively on what patients tell us in the office, not on tests," says Dr. David Vinson, the study's lead author, "so it's not that different for them to tell someone over the phone." Of the 4,177 women in the study, almost 90 percent chose to give their symptoms to a specially trained nurse, who then faxed their antibiotic orders to a pharmacy after getting the OK from their primary care provider. The women fared as well as those who chose the waiting-room route. (Over-the-counter treatments for UTI are also available, but they don't get rid of the infection--they only reduce the pain.) The idea is catching on; many individual practices and HMOs have started offering phone-based UTI treatment. Ask your doctor if he or she will consider it; you might save yourself a lot of trouble.