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Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018 12:02 am

Virtual doctor’s office visits offer convenience


When you’re sick, you no longer have to go to your physician’s office and wait to be seen. Thanks to today’s new digital technologies, patients and clinicians can now connect virtually in real time from any location.

HSHS Medical Group launched its virtual telemedicine service called Anytime Care in 2015. “We wanted to target after-hours callers and our rural community,” said Jeaneene Gesell, Anytime Care service line manager. Thirty percent of the calls received come in after hours and on weekends.

Patients can access the system by phone, the Anytime Care mobile app or the internet. An appointment is not necessary, and a visit only costs $29. Once a patient signs on and gives a brief summary of the reason for their visit, the average time until a board-certified provider calls back is eight minutes. The average visit lasts 18 minutes.

The first patient to use the service was a young mother. “Her child had pink eye,” recalls Gesell. Mom was able to pick up a script from the pharmacy, take her child to her grandmother’s house and go to work with no lost time.

It’s this convenience that busy consumers are looking for today. In the time it takes a patient to drive to their primary care physician’s office, they can call, receive a diagnosis and get a prescription.

The service is available to Illinois residents and for members in 21 states, with plans to expand to all 50 states. However, patients who are insured through federal insurance plans or Tricare are not eligible to use this service.

Clinicians can diagnose and treat non-emergency health concerns. If the patient is still having problems 48 hours later, they can call back at no charge. The number one medical condition treated last year was urinary tract infections.

Virtual visits are not appropriate in all circumstances. Within the first three minutes, if the clinician determines the condition is not appropriate, there is no charge for the visit.

Due to the many common ailments that can be addressed this way, Gesell said overall virtual visits have increased by 10 percent from last year.

Memorial Physician Services launched MemorialNow in 2016, a virtual care product that allows a person to access primary care services through their desktop, tablet or smartphone. Since its inception, more than 4,000 users have utilized MemorialNow.

“Patients want convenience,” said Travis Dowell, vice president of Memorial Physician Services. “This makes life easier for them.”

The service was initially available to Illinois residents age 18 years and older. However, coverage was recently expanded to include pediatric patients ages one to 17 who are established patients with a Memorial Physician Services physician and have been seen within the past year.

“It’s not designed to replace your primary physician’s office,” said Dowell. The service is designed for acute, non-emergency illnesses such as bronchitis, colds, urinary tract infections, yeast infections, pink eye and upper respiratory infections.

As with the Anytime Care service, there are services that are not appropriate to handle virtually, such as physicals. When a user presents with a possible emergency situation such as chest pains, there are protocols in place to refer to the emergency department.

Users can access the secure service from wherever they are via an internet connection or the MemorialNow mobile app. From the time a patient signs on and answers a few questions until hearing back from a provider, the service responds within an hour; the average turnaround has been 15 minutes. The service is staffed by advanced practice registered nurses, each with more than 10 years of experience. The cost of the service is $40 and is not covered by insurance. Patients are only charged for their visits if a treatment plan is developed.

Virtual health care is a growing trend as the number of physicians continues to decline and aging baby boomers need increased access to health care. Both hospitals expect usage to continue to grow as people use and appreciate the convenience it offers.

“It’s care when you need it most,” said Gesell.


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