Local care, remotely
Similar to the rising popularity of telehealth for counseling services, several area hospitals and clinics provide e-visits to Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto patients, with online visits ranging from annual checkups to urgent care needs. Some of these area programs were in place as a resource prior to the coronavirus outbreak.
Baylor Scott & White Health offers e-visits with clinicians seven days a week, with diagnoses and treatment plans for conditions such as the common cold, minor gastrointestinal complications, pink eye and the flu. Urgent Care for Kids-Round Rock provides virtual visits for pediatric care for infants up through patients age 21 and is open for visits on all major holidays.
Ascension Seton has an app, Ascension Online Care, through which patients can report symptoms to a doctor and receive a diagnosis, treatment options and prescription services, if necessary. The system does not require premade appointments and allows patients to log on and discuss symptoms as needed.
Some insurance providers cover telemedicine services as part of its insurance plans, including Medicare. Area hospitals and clinics recommend patients consult prior to booking an appointment. Insured patients can cover their appointment with a copay, while those without insurance or opting for private pay can pay for their services out of pocket.
Connecting patients and physicians
The goal of e-visits is to relieve area health care workers of increasing numbers of in-house patients and reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading, said Amy Altman, chief operating officer of the telemedicine app MDBox.
Telemedicine is a tool used by health care professionals to connect patients and physicians through phone calls and video chats, Altman said. For MDBox, the process operates similar to an in-person visit: Patients fill out a questionnaire based on their symptoms and wait in a waiting room before seeing their physician.
The difference here, Altman said, is people can now connect with their physicians from their homes. As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has continued to increase in Texas, Altman said the app has seen an uptick in online appointments as well as has added a screening specifically for coronavirus symptoms. Common symptoms for the illness include fever, cough and shortness of breath, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“There are a lot of people, frankly, that are just really nervous,” Altman said. “Most medical professionals are pretty tied up right now, so you're not going to be able to call your primary care and get on the phone with them just to ask them questions. By being able to do a visit with telemed, [patients are] getting that one-on-one ability to have discussions and talk about concerns with that physician or medical provider.”
Telemedicine visits can treat virtually the same conditions as a physician’s appointment or trip to urgent care—sinusitis, pink eye, flu symptoms and strep throat—as well as write scripts for antibiotics and other non-controlled substances.
With social distancing—maintaining a minimum of 6 feet between people to prevent the spread of the coronavirus—mandated in public spaces following recommendation by the CDC, Altman said the power of telemedicine is in its ability to continually provide routine care for patients without a heightened risk of exposure.
“We really see the value proposition of, right now, during this time, keeping people out of the overburdened medical system,” Altman said. “Even if I can keep some kids out that have pink eye from having to go tie up the doctors that might really need to be dealing with some COVID patients, then we've done a service to the community in terms of health care.”
Are you a medical practitioner providing online visits for patients? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for inclusion in our running list of area telemedicine options.