Medical Minute: Virtual Care Makes Home Calls

Medical Minute: Virtual Care Makes Home Calls

Hershey, Pennsylvania — When you’re away from home, rather than looking for urgent care in an unfamiliar neighborhood or wondering if you should just wait, the Virtual Care Service offers the opportunity to see a doctor from anywhere — no matter what state you’re welcome.

“For common illnesses, this is a portable option to access Penn State Health,” said Chris Lakow, vice president of virtual health at Penn State Health. “The Urgent Care app provides the ability to register, log in, identify your symptoms, choose a provider of your choice, and receive care, including a prescription if needed, all within minutes.”

with Penn State Health On DemandFor example, patients use secure video to communicate face-to-face with a provider from an online group that provides emergency care 24/7. Up to four people can be connected, allowing family members in other locations to “attend” the appointment if the patient chooses to include them.

Waiting time to see a caregiver can be minimal with the Virtual Health Service. Currently, with Penn State Health OnDemand, patients have an average wait time of about six minutes. Lako said the average visit duration is about 10 minutes. The cost is $69 per visit. Patients who have Highmark insurance and choose to use it will pay $15 or co-pay for their plan.

Patients take an active part

Sometimes telehealth visits require patient assistance with providing physical findings, Lako said. For example, if a sore throat is suspected, a patient may use a video phone camera to help the provider visualize the throat, or a parent may assist providers in identifying physical findings such as gentle pulling on the child’s ear while the doctor observes whether the child is stuttering. This may indicate an ear infection.

Bluetooth-enabled devices can be integrated into the platform to access a cuff or sphygmomanometer so that patients can report vital data.

Minor ailments, such as sore throats, sinusitis, rashes, and earaches, can be easily treated with a virtual appointment. Others, such as a wound that needs stitching or access to lab tests, are best served by an in-person visit at the treatment provider’s discretion, Lako said.

COVID-19 advice available

For those showing symptoms of COVID-19, the OnDemand COVID-19 screening app continues to connect them with a Penn State Health registered nurse who conducts a no-cost screening visit through the app. If examinations or additional medical care is warranted, the nurse advises the next steps to take. The app also provides access to COVID-19 travel testing.

“We are still a resource for the community to support COVID-19 and we are still there when needed,” Lako said. “The availability of the OnDemand app is very convenient.”

Usage is expanding

In addition to urgent care, Penn State Health OnDemand has expanded to include mental health counseling and psychiatric care. This is in addition to multiple programs and conditions, including dermatology, neurology, behavioral health, inflammatory bowel disease, maternal-fetal medicine, reproductive medicine, and surgical follow-up visits. Lako noted that Penn State physicians see patients in OnDemand’s urgent, primary, and specialty programs.

The Penn State Health OnDemand app has been downloaded 180,000 times, and there have been 250,000 scheduled virtual visits.

“Digital care is the way of the future,” Lacco said. “Our goals are to reach more patients, save time, money, effort, and energy, and open up access to care wherever and whenever it’s convenient for them.”

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The medical minute is a weekly health news feature produced by Penn State Health. The articles feature the expertise of our faculty, clinicians, and staff, and are designed to present timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.

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