On Your Health

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When Is a Virtual Doctor's Visit a Good Choice?

While doctor’s offices, walk-in clinics and urgent care centers are all great ways to see a doctor when you’re not feeling well, there’s another option that can be faster, more convenient, and just as effective, and it’s becoming more popular every day: telemedicine.

With new telemedicine innovations like the INTEGRIS Virtual Visit program, patients can benefit by accessing health care straight from their own homes via a virtual provider. This means they can skip the drive to the doctor’s office as well as possible long delays in congested waiting rooms filled with other contagious people.

So, how do virtual doctor visits actually work? What are the benefits of health care consultations done via a screen? When should you take advantage of them? Read on to learn more.

What is INTEGRIS Virtual Visit?

Telemedicine (which is sometimes known as TeleHealth, eHealth, or eMedicine) is a tool that helps with the remote diagnosis of patients, usually for serious, acute conditions such as burns or stroke, between two different health professionals or hospitals, using telecommunication networks. This kind of telemedicine is essential for rural Oklahomans and others whose access to health care is limited.

The INTEGRIS Virtual Visit program is a part of the INTEGRIS TeleHealth program, but it’s meant for less serious medical conditions, and takes place straight between a patient and a health care provider, at the patient's request. Many people have likely made a Skype or FaceTime call in the recent past. An INTEGRIS Virtual Visit is just like that! It accomplishes this with secure video conferencing technology connecting a patient directly with a health care provider. All a patient needs is an internet connection.

"People most often use INTEGRIS Virtual Visit for common illnesses such as a cold, a cough or a urinary tract infection," says Nate Draper, who manages eHealth operations at INTEGRIS. "If the patient has a more serious condition, we advise them to seek in-person medical care."

"We started the INTEGRIS Virtual Visit program in 2015. Since that time, we have had over 12,000 visits to the program," says Draper.

What is the advantage of a virtual doctor's visit?

Because patients can seek care from their homes, one advantage of a virtual visit means less time off work or school.

"I use this service for my own children all the time," says Draper. "It makes things much easier because I don’t have to gather them up to go to the doctor and miss a significant amount of work for me and school for them." And, just as important: "A virtual visit also reduces the number of germs my kids are exposed too, especially during flu season," he says.

Patients can either download the INTEGRIS Virtual Visit app from the Apple or Google store or go to www.integrisvirtualvisit.com.  From there it’s just a matter of quickly creating an account and entering symptoms. Then, a physician or nurse practitioner will connect through video, usually within 10 to 15 minutes. If a prescription is required, a patient can have it called in at the pharmacy of their choice.

Are there safety concerns for a virtual visit?

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston published a study that showed virtual visits can replace office visits for patients without compromising health care quality. Most patients surveyed in the study reported there was no difference in the overall quality of the visit.

In fact, these visits were often preferred to a traditional in-person visit for common illnesses, most likely because in a virtual visit 95 percent of the time spent by the patient is face-to-face with the doctor, compared to a traditional visit, in which most time is spent traveling and waiting.

"The main factor in getting the same quality of care with a virtual visit is ensuring it is appropriate for the symptoms of the patient," says Draper. "If the virtual physician feels the condition isn’t appropriate for a virtual visit, the doctor will direct the patient to an in-person visit."

When is a virtual visit the right choice?

While INTEGRIS Virtual Visit is a great choice for general health concerns, it does have its limitations.

A virtual visit cannot be used to prescribe or get refills of controlled medications like narcotics, anti-anxiety medications or stimulants. Virtual visit providers cannot order lab tests, and a virtual visit cannot be used for patients who are experiencing life-threatening or emergency conditions like chest pain, seizures, bleeding or a head injury. Virtual visits should not be used to treat substance abuse problems or those with suicidal thoughts.

However, a virtual visit is ideal for common problems that aren't an emergency or don't require ongoing care. Issues like colds, coughs, rashes, diarrhea, allergies, yeast infections, stomach flu, bladder infections, upper respiratory infections, minor injuries, pink eye, sinus infections, headache and other common problems can be easily addressed through a virtual visit. A complete list is available on the website.

How much does an INTEGRIS Virtual Visit cost?

At INTEGRIS, doctors and nurse practitioners stand by 24 hours a day to consult via video chat or FaceTime about whatever ails you. Important details to note:

  • Insurance is never required.
  • The fee is always a flat $45 (some member pricing may be even less).
  • Most visits are completed in 20 minutes or less.
  • If it's quickly determined that your case can't be treated via INTEGRIS Virtual Visit, you won't be charged.
  • If you have had a virtual visit and are still not feeling well, if you are seen within 48 hours with the same chief complaint, you will not be charged for a new visit.
  • Your personal information and visit details are confidential and are protected.

 

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