Delivering Digital Diagnoses
The UF Health Virtual Visit program will include specialty services in 2018.
The UF Health Virtual Visit program gives patients a convenient, cost-saving alternative to office visits. Patients with acute illnesses, chronic conditions, mobility issues and those requiring postsurgical follow-ups can be seen remotely by their health care providers on mobile devices or personal computers with a webcam.
“For conventional office visits that would typically only take 15 minutes to complete, a patient may be looking at taking a half day off of work, finding babysitting, transportation and parking, and spending time sitting in a waiting room,” said Nipa Shah, MD, a professor and chair of community health and family medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville.
Virtual visits have been most frequently used for pediatric and primary care patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and for acute illnesses such as pinkeye and strep throat. Through the camera on the device used, the physician can sometimes look at the eye or throat up close and assess the problem, prescribing medication as needed. According to Shah, the physical exam through virtual visits isn’t necessarily limiting in many cases.
“With mobile devices, you can get creative with the camera to allow the provider to see the problem and, through a series of questions, properly evaluate and diagnose the condition,” Shah said.
If you try a virtual visit and the provider determines if he or she needs to see you in person, an appointment is offered at the provider’s office within 24 to 72 hours. No additional copay is required, if the patient is being seen for the same medical concern.
“There’s no harm in trying a virtual visit,” Shah said.
Knowing a patient’s medical history benefits providers and can make the visit more effective. Shah recommends all UF Health providers move toward offering virtual visits.
“There’s an opportunity for every service line to use telemedicine,” Shah said.
Jessica Peters, telemedicine education coordinator, visits offices to administer training, taking providers through a simulation of a virtual visit. Once they are trained, it is easier to identify which patients are candidates.
“Providers should talk to their patients about this option,” Peters said. “The provider is in the best position to identify patients who would benefit from access to virtual care.”
Peters is also focused on educating customer service representatives in the practices and in the call center. Representatives pre-qualify patients to make sure the medical condition is appropriate for a virtual visit and that they meet eligibility requirements.
Virtual visits are also easy and convenient for pediatric patients who receive weekly weight management counseling by a nutritionist. Tina Smith, telemedicine director for the pediatrics department, is working with providers to use this technology to serve as many patients as possible.
“Telemedicine has reduced the number of no-shows and opened up time to see more patients, even filling time between patients,” Smith said.
This year, administrators are working to include a virtual visit appointment option within the MyUFHealth application, and make virtual visits available in labor and delivery for babies born at UF Health North who need to be transferred to the NICU at the downtown campus. Mothers will take part in checkups with their baby’s provider while they are in postpartum recovery.
Visit UFHealthJax.org/virtual-visit for more information and to view a list of participating providers.