How Does Virtual Care Improve the Patient Experience?

At Scripps, virtual care provides easy access and scheduling

A mother and daughter smile as they meet with their physician on a virtual visit.

At Scripps, virtual care provides easy access and scheduling

One of the most popular tech trends to emerge during the pandemic is telemedicine. The number of virtual care visits has skyrocketed, and it’s not hard to see why. Not only do virtual visits help control the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, but they also allow you to see your doctor from the comfort of your home which can save precious time. 

Scripps has seen a boom in virtual visits for both primary care and specialty care, and for Scripps HealthExpress services. 

What is virtual care at Scripps?

Throughout the Scripps system, 16 to 18 percent of all visits are now conducted virtually, and in some specialties, such as endocrinology, where patients require frequent check-ins, that number can jump to as high as 75 percent, says David Wetherhold, MD, chief medical information officer for ambulatory systems at Scripps Health, and an internal medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Anderson Medical Pavilion in La Jolla. 

Scripps also offers a free online symptom checker that can help patients determine whether to seek care immediately or later, and in person or online

Benefits of remote patient monitoring

“We were just doing a handful of telehealth cases prior to March of 2020, then there was that sudden uptick,” he says. “Over the course of COVID, we did see certain spikes that correlated with spikes in the virus, but we never saw numbers go down low again — this is what we call the ‘new normal.’” 

For individuals with chronic conditions, like diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease, virtual visits can be a gamechanger. Many patients have purchased or been outfitted with smart medical devices, such as blood pressure cuffs, heart monitors and pulse oximeters, that electronically transmit data to their Scripps care team who can monitor them remotely and be on alert for any significant changes. 

As you can imagine, that’s a lot of data. Readings are routed to a central command center for remote patient monitoring and telehealth where both humans and computers using artificial intelligence review them and escalate cases as needed so doctors can intervene early. 

“Traditionally care was more reactive — your blood pressure’s too high or your sugars are going too high or too low, and we have to do something,” says Dr. Wetherhold. “This will allow us to become more proactive in catching things before they get into trouble, keeping people healthier, keeping them out of the emergency room and out of the hospital.” 

Connecting with your health care

Telemedicine has made primary care appointments more accessible. What used to require taking time off work, finding childcare, paying for parking, etc., can now be done from anywhere and usually in much less time. 

Virtual visits are great for issues, such as for:

  • When starting a new medication or following up after trying one out for a few weeks
  • Recurring conditions, including urinary tract infections
  • Discussing test results
  • Treatment of an infectious illness, such as a cold, the flu or COVID-19, minor injuries and mental health concerns 

Doctors can also prescribe medications and order lab work or X-rays during the appointment. 

Virtual visits also make it easy to loop in a caregiver or loved one, even if they live in a different part of the country.    

Technology also allows physicians to get a glimpse of a patient’s home environment and discuss any concerns with patients and their family members or support system. For children of elderly patients, virtual discussions with a physician can bring much-needed peace of mind. 

“When you move away from an elderly parent, one of the big stress factors is their health care. Making sure that they’re getting the appropriate care can lead to better care for the patient because the family's going to be more involved in understanding what’s going on, and also stress-relieving for the family members,” says Dr. Wetherhold. 

In-person care is still important

While telemedicine and virtual visits are a welcome addition for many, Dr. Wetherhold cautions that they’re not appropriate for every health concern — for instance, if you’re experiencing severe chest or abdominal pain. 

Doctors can determine during a virtual visit if a patient needs more care than they can provide online and will advise them to schedule an office visit or go straight to the hospital

The prevalence of telemedicine doesn’t mean your health care provider is less available to see you in-person. Staff members are still available by phone to make appointments and answer questions. 

“In-person care is never going to go away, but there are a lot of people who love this new form of care,” Dr. Wetherhold says. “It’s really the patient's choice of which form of care they would like to use.” 

The cover of the September 2022 issue of San Diego Health Magazine.

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.

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