July 5, 2022

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Virtual health care programs provide convenience for patients | News

East Texas health systems are providing convenient care for urgent needs by providing fast and easy virtual care programs.

Christus Health System and UT Health East Texas are two entities offering the chance for anyone in need to see a provider in real time, virtually. 

Christus Trinity Mother Frances and Christus Good Shepherd recently announced the launch of On-Demand Care, now be available for anyone in the region.

“People can get the same high-quality care they would expect from an in-person visit without requiring them to leave their home or office,” said Mike Talley, Vice President of Clinical Operations and Virtual Care, Christus Health. “Christus On Demand Care is for anyone who might need to see a provider right away. You don’t need to be an existing patient with us.”

The program was previously offered exclusively to Christus associates but expanded in May to provide for anyone in Texas or Louisiana.

The virtual visits allow patients to use their smartphone, computer or tablet to meet with a provider about any urgent care needs. Individuals don’t have to be an existing patient to see a provider. Providers can treat the flu, stomachaches, coughing, fevers, rashes, allergies and more.

“We hope to make care convenient for patients,” said Timothy Barker, family physician and System Medical Director, CMIO Ambulatory Informatics for Christus Health. “That’s really the main goal, is to allow patients to access our services in a manner and in a time that’s convenient for them, and I think that’s really what virtual care has done over the last couple of years.”

During a virtual visit, a patient is placed in a queue and then seen by the first available Christus board-certified provider. Waiting times are currently averaging at a few minutes and expected to be no longer than 30 minutes. All virtual visits are HIPAA compliant.

Barker said they have around 100 visits a week and typically have somewhere between 10 and 20 a day.

As of now, 160 clinicians offer virtual care services from Christus Trinity Mother Frances and a majority of them are primary care physicians.

On-Demand Care has no additional cost for those with medical insurance. Nearly all major medical insurances will cover a visit. Patients might have a co-pay depending on their insurance plan just like they would if they saw a provider in a traditional visit. For those who do not have insurance, there is a $30 fee for a visit.

Appointments can be made on every weekday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. including holidays. More information about the program and scheduling a visit can be found at www.christushealth.org/get-care/virtual-care.

“If your doctor isn’t available, you have an urgent issue or it’s outside of usual office hours, then the On-Demand virtual care is a really nice service,” Barker said.

Barker said the health system has received good feedback from On-Demand Care patients.

“They absolutely love it,” Barker said. “They love the convenience.”

Barker said most visits still occur in the office but when it’s appropriate and suitable, they’re happy to offer virtual care services.

“I have literally had patients who have had video visits with me from their pick-up truck in the parking lot of a gas plant where they are working,” Barker said.

Barker said because of the convenience, patients are more likely to be treated rather than putting off some of the care they really need.

Paul Generale, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer said Christus On-Demand Care means no commute and busy waiting rooms for patients.

“The patient virtual care experience will be something we continuously look to grow at Christus,” Generale said. “We want to respond to the needs and wants of people with busy schedules, those who live in secluded areas or those who need quick access to an urgent care doctor in minutes.”

According to Steven Keuer, M.D., President Christus Trinity Clinic, if a virtual visit starts and the doctor thinks the patient might benefit from an in-person visit, one can be arranged in a clinic or emergency room. If further testing such as blood work or a consultation is necessary, Christus On-Demand Care can also assist in facilitating referrals.

Barker said like most healthcare organizations, they had a very small virtual care footprint prior to COVID-19, but they ramped up immediately with the pandemic.

“We learned a lot about virtual care and how to really take care of a patient with a two-way audio [and] video connection and learned what we can do virtually versus what we can do in the office,” Barker said. “[We] found out that we can do most everything, particularly in primary care.”

UT Health East Texas also offers a similar program that features on-demand video visits. They are available to anyone 18 and older. Anyone can be seen by a UT Health East Texas provider virtually, wherever the patient is located.

Anyone can see a UT Health provider in real time for a variety of common illnesses and conditions, such as seasonal allergies, minor injuries, eye irritation, stomachaches, colds and coughs, sinus infections, UTIs and bladder infections, non-severe COVID-19 symptoms, earaches, rashes and skin conditions, flu and sore throats.

All an individual needs to take advantage of these visits is a good internet connection and a computer, smartphone or tablet. Go to uthealtheasttexas.com/videovisits and click the “See a Provider Now” button. You can use this service even if you’ve not been UT Health before.

Hours of operation for UT Health’s on-demand video visits are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

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