Virtual office visits becoming common during pandemic

Virtual office visits becoming common during pandemic

Going to a doctor’s office these days can be daunting for those concerned about being exposed to COVID-19.

That’s why many doctors’ offices have turned to virtual visits to help diagnose and treat ailments and injuries outside the realm of the coronavirus.

At the Medical Arts Clinic in Bay City, office manager Terry Stewart said the office recently turned to a new app that has made virtual visits a lot easier for patients and physicians.

Last week, Medical Arts started using the Medici app, which is an app that patients can find doctors, set up appointments and have visits with a doctor via Facetime, text or a phone call. There is usually a $40 fee involved with using the app, but Stewart said the clinic waves that fee.

“We just got it last week we have already seen 40 patients through the app,” Stewart said.

The office will send a text to a potential patient with a link to how to get the app. Once the app is installed, the patient can search for the physician’s name and make an appointment. The app has a bio of the doctor and what he or she specializes in.

“The patient has to initiate the visit with a call or text to him,” Stewart said.

An initial contact with a patient, the doctor usually responds anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, she said, depending upon if the doctor is involved in seeing another patient. The average visit is anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.

“Most patients have requested Facetime, so they are more face-to-face with the doctor,” Stewart said.

Patients are able to use the cameras on their phones to show the doctor certain conditions or injuries to see how they are best treated. Stewart said one patient using her phone took a picture of the back of her throat to show the doctor pustules that were in order to make a diagnosis. The doctor can also send an e-script to a pharmacy, if a patient is in need of a prescription for their particular ailment.

When the COVID-19 outbreak began and physicians were more in need of more virtual exams, the company that developed the Medici contacted Medical Arts to see if they would be interested in their app.

“We’ve had patients that are 70 years old use it and they find its very easy,” Stewart said.

She said many doctor’s offices have used the Zoom app to do visits virtually, but they have found that the app works much easier for them and does more things. Stewart said the physician is able to make consult notes using the app and make referrals to other doctors. The app also tracks how long visits are virtually for billing purposes and for Medicare.

“It keeps a record of everything for us to send to Medicare,” Stewart said.

It also tracks how much to bill to insurance companies and also has an option for self-pay patients to use a credit card.

Another of the advantages of the app, Stewart said, is you can contact the physician after hours or on weekends, when doctor’s offices are closed. She said have a consultation with the doctor this way could save a patient from having to go to an emergency room and run up a bill that could cost thousands. Usually the doctor can tell if it is something the patient can treat themselves or have a need to go to the emergency room to have it taken care of.

While using technology has been great for some offices for virtual visits, Matagorda Medical Group has found the old-fashioned way works good too.

“Phone calls seem to work the best for our patients,” Lauren Fox, clinic administrator for the Matagorda Medical Group, said.

Most patients don’t want to come into the office right now because of the concern over the coronavirus, she said.

Their office has had 1,000 virtual visits through their office since the first positive test for COVID-19 was confirmed in Matagorda County on March 16.

“We had a schedule full of patients when this hit,” Fox said. “You don’t always have to be face-to-face if it’s just for a consult with a physician.”

Patients prefer an old-fashioned phone call because some of the technology can be confusing if you are not used to dealing with it, she said.

Like any exam, you call into office to set up a virtual visit and a time the physician will call you is set up.

The virtual visits tend to be quicker because there is no physical exam involved with the visit and tend to average between 5 and 10 minutes.

Fox said the insurance process is exactly the same for their office except the co-pay may be billed to the patient instead of being paid up front.

“Insurance companies have made the process a lot easier for us during this time,” Fox said.

If there are symptoms described to the physician that are consistent with COVID-19, Fox said, the doctor will call ahead to the emergency room at the hospital to tell someone is being sent to be tested.

In many ways, virtual visits have helped limit potential exposure to COVID-19.

“I think a lot of people are taking what the governor and the President have said to heart by staying home,” Fox said.

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