Over the past few months, healthcare experts have had to make some quick changes to how care is brought to their patients. To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, many in-person doctor’s visits have been switched to some form of online appointments instead.
Virtual care visits–from video chats to online messaging with your provider–have been around for a while now, but they’re being expanded and adopted at an unprecedented pace.
“Henry Ford has been offering online visits since as early as 2012, and video visits since 2016. The adoption of these virtual care services has been slow in the past, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a 5000% increase in video and online visits. Virtual care was becoming more of a staple in our care delivery, but COVID-19 has accelerated adoption and proven the value of this convenient and innovative option,” says Courtney Stevens, who is the director of virtual care services for Henry Ford Health.
What is virtual care? In short, it’s a modern-day twist on the house calls doctors used to make back in another era. Traditional doctor’s visits have been adapted using digital tools to provide care to people in the privacy of their home, workplace or wherever they are. The concept, which is also called telehealth or telemedicine, was developed as a way to offer busy patients a more convenient way to get the care they need.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it also has become an invaluable resource for minimizing the spread of the virus while allowing patients to still get the care they need remotely. Just as many of us have become familiar with video chats to keep in touch family and friends during shelter-in-place orders, a growing number of providers and patients have learned to use their smartphone or computer as a tool to communicate with each other about the symptoms and treatment recommendations.
“Through our patient satisfaction surveys about Henry Ford’s Video Visit On Demand program, over 87% of patients were satisfied with their video visit experience and over 60% preferred this video visit on demand experience over their traditional in clinic visit. Almost 90% of the survey respondents would recommend this service to their friends or family members,” says Stevens.
When To Use Virtual Care
Not all health conditions or concerns are appropriate for virtual care visits, of course. In the case of an emergency, you should call 911 immediately or go to the nearest ER. Do not schedule a virtual care appointment.
Virtual visits can be a suitable option for most typical family medicine, internal medicine, pediatric, behavioral health and specialty visits, though, including those for common conditions like flu, urinary tract infections, skin rashes, sinus infections, allergies or follow-up appointments for ongoing care.
“At Henry Ford, we’ve expanded video visits to include scheduled visits, where you make an appointment for a video chat with your doctor or a particular specialist at a specified time, as well as offering on-demand video visits for more urgent primary care needs with a doctor who is on call and able to offer help right when you need it, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” says Stevens.
Here are a few situations when a virtual visit could work for you:
- You are worried about the spread of COVID-19. Many people have a heightened sense of fear surrounding doctor’s appointments right now. If you are worried about going to the doctor for a scheduled appointment, talk to your provider to see if a virtual visit is something you can do, or if it is best to delay your appointment until a later date. (That said, precautions are in place at clinics and hospitals to care for patients safely. If you need an in-person visit, especially for serious symptoms that require an ER visit, don’t delay getting care.)
- You are struggling to make time for a doctor’s visit. When you’re juggling kids at home, your job and the stress of this “new normal,” getting to the doctor may not be at the top of your to-do list. Fortunately, using virtual care it doesn’t require you to leave the house.
- You are recovering from surgery. Follow-up appointments are a routine part of post-surgery care. If you’re still on the mend after a procedure, it can be a hassle to get yourself up and out of the house. Virtual visits allow you to have a conversation with your doctor at home. Some virtual care options even allow you to send a photo of an incision so your doctor can see how you’re healing up.
- You are monitoring a health condition at home. For many people with conditions like heart disease or diabetes, your doctor may ask you to regularly monitor your blood pressure or blood sugar. Virtual care allows you to report back your numbers without having to go in for frequent appointments. Some doctors and midwives are offering prenatal visits that can be conducted via video visits, making ongoing pregnancy care more manageable too.
- You have a quick health question. Messaging your doctor with a concern or using a tool like an e-visit has never been easier. He or she may recommend you come in for a visit, reassure you that you can monitor your symptoms from home or send a prescription to your pharmacy.
Especially during COVID-19, it is important not to go into the ER if you are experiencing mild symptoms that you’re worried may be the novel coronavirus. Virtual care allows you to reach out to your primary care provider about your symptoms before possibly exposing others. From there, your provider can recommend next steps.
If you and your doctor decide virtual care is right for you, talk to your insurance provider to make sure that these types of visits are covered in your plan. Many have expanded coverage to include virtual care recently. Also talk to your doctor to see if there is any special equipment you need to successfully have your appointment virtually. Your doctor may need information like your weight, temperature or blood pressure to properly evaluate your health remotely.
Learn more about Henry Ford’s virtual care options and which may be best for you. To get started, download the MyChart app from Google Play or the App Store, or log in to your Henry Ford MyChart account on a laptop or computer with a web camera.
Courtney Stevens is the director of virtual care at Henry Ford Health.