How do you get treatment for pink eye during a public health crisis, follow up with your doctor on an existing health issue or refill a prescription in a pinch when you can’t see your provider? Scripps has the solution: virtual care.
Scripps already offered telemedicine services, but was compelled to rapidly expand the services to meet the needs of patients throughout the San Diego region as COVID-19 closed many outpatient clinics and prompted some people to put off care. Primary care and specialty care physicians alike quickly shifted from mainly seeing patients in person to leveraging technology to connect in a new, innovative — and safe — way.
Telemedicine has allowed physicians to continue to care for patients during the coronavirus pandemic and manage numerous health concerns, chronic conditions and other issues.
“With the pandemic, it’s very important for us as health care workers to prevent further spread of infection, while still being able to offer care to our patients,” says Vivian Tran, MD, an internal medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Mission Valley. “Telemedicine has given us a way to do so.”
Scripps has several ways to access virtual care:
- A free, online Symptom Checker, which is available 24/7, can help patients determine the level of care they need. This may include self-care, a video visit with their physician, or an in-person visit to a Scripps HealthExpress walk-in clinic or a Scripps urgent care location.
- E-Visits can be launched at any time 24/7, not just during business hours. Patients will get a reply normally within 30 minutes, from 7 am to 9 pm, from a Scripps HealthExpress provider.
- Video Visits, which can be conveniently scheduled online or over the phone, connect patients with their primary or specialty care provider. Scripps HealthExpress also offers Video Visits on-demand for minor illnesses or injuries.
Scripps’ specialty care providers use telemedicine appointments to manage chronic conditions, like hypertension or high cholesterol, order tests and even treat new patients who have been referred to them.
Jorge Gonzalez, MD, a cardiologist and director of advanced cardiovascular imaging at Scripps Clinic, says Video Visits became the new normal while he was working from home. Through Video Visits, he has also been able to help patients better understand the results of CT scans and other imaging procedures.
“It was amazing, because I was able to share my desktop with patients,” he says. “I was able to show the patients images of their aorta and go over the scans with them virtually instead of in the office.”
Dr. Gonzalez adds that Video Visits have also allowed patients to get a glimpse of his personal life.
“The patients love it because they can see that the doctor is human like them, and that we’re all in the same boat,” he says.
Technology can be daunting for some, but Scripps has worked hard in recent months to get patients comfortable with the know-how needed to navigate telemedicine options.
“We have a great support staff with registered nurse assistants and schedulers who have been trained as ‘super users,’ and they actually call our patients and guide them through the downloading and check-in process, if they need support,” says Dr. Tran.
Dr. Gonzalez says his first Video Visit patients were a couple in their 90s who were able to schedule an appointment with a little help from their daughter. They were in need of timely assistance but were able to avoid a trip to the hospital.
“That’s a huge win for both doctors and patients,” says Dr. Gonzalez.
Both Dr. Gonzalez and Dr. Tran say that while certain conditions, exams and procedures will always require an in-person visit with a primary care physician or a specialty care provider, aspects of virtual medicine are here to stay. Patients seem to appreciate the ease and convenience of telemedicine appointments, and providers now have another tool to care for patients.
“Our patients are happy we can provide care to them while they’re able to stay at home,” says Dr. Tran. “We can provide convenient access to medical care with their safety top of mind.”