Popularity of virtual healthcare visits rises with COVID-19

Sometimes it’s the numbers that tell the story.

If you compare month-to-date numbers for March 24, 2019, against that same period for 2020, MyChart video healthcare visits at the entire Bon Secours Mercy Health healthcare system saw a staggering increase of 5,373 percent.

It’s no surprise why. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do many things, including visiting the doctor.

Speaking with a doctor remotely – be it by telephone, video chat, or otherwise – has become an increasingly popular way for people to address their healthcare needs, all the while adhering to the recommendations for social distancing.

“Virtual visits had already existed in our system, but meeting face-to-face still seemed to be the preferred way for appointments before 2020,” says Dr. Joseph Morman, who practices primary care and family medicine at Family Physicians of Springfield, a Mercy Health affiliate. “With virtual visits, people can have face-to-face interactions without waiting in the waiting room, not touching things, avoiding point-to-point contact.”

While Mercy Health virtual doctor’s appointments were available on a trial basis prior to the pandemic, the coronavirus outbreak has seemingly mainstreamed the process.

The healthcare system’s primary platform for virtual visits is MyChart, an app for smartphones and tablets. Additional platforms are available for those without access to MyChart.

Patients schedule an appointment and have a face-to-face video conference call with their doctors. Morman says that he frequently meets with patients while they’re in their cars, on break from work.

It’s often as simple as that.

“Virtual visits are good for a lot of things. Medication refills, which is a big part of our day anyhow. Something like ADD (attention deficit disorder) meds, those patients have to come into the office four times a year just to get medication. That requires a lot of office time,” Morman says. “They’re good for wellness visits, mild respiratory issues, simple rashes.

“What virtual visits aren’t good for are fevers, chest and abdominal pain, shortness of breath, inner ear pain – because I can’t see in there. Any condition that you have that isn’t improving, then come in.”

While the video calls are available to both established and new patients alike, the MyChart Evisits are only available to established patients. Patients fill out a questionnaire for non-urgent conditions, and the doctor sends a message with diagnosis and treatment options – no video needed.

And for those without access to the required technology for video chats and Evisits, Mercy Health offers the option for a simple phone call.

It’s important to note that virtual visits aren’t required, and people can still come into the office to see their doctors in-person. However, they are recommended.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every aspect of our lives, it’s the ability to offer a number of safe alternatives to in-person appointments that has brought back a semblance of normalcy to doctor visits, allowing patients to feel safe and secure in their own spaces while still receiving the care that they need.

“We have a busy practice here. But amid COVID concerns, our patients dropped off,” Morman says. “Virtual visits came along, and the patients are back.”

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