Doctors can now refill medications, help patients with various ailments like hypertension and diabetes, and even order a test for coronavirus, all with the patient comfortably at home.
This is through the power of telemedicine — when doctors and patients meet via video.
One website boasts all this, and more, with a team of three doctors, two of whom are locally based, with a combined 40-plus years of experience and multi-state licenses, as well as two nurse practitioners and an administrator.
The website, www.CoronaTeleDoc.com, was set up Sunday and has already served 12 patients. However, these doctors have served thousands of patients before this throughout Florida, Kansas, Arizona, South Dakota, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.
Medicare guidelines originally only allowed telemedical appointments to be done in underserved areas in clinic settings with a nurse on-site. A majority of patients via telemed for Dr. Birgit Bodine have been prisoners so they don’t have to be transported. Bodine is also a part-time physician at the local hospitals.
“This is perfect for elderly patients because we want to keep them home if possible,” Bodine said. “If they feel sick and go to the doctor’s office, they could spread (the virus) or contract it.”
Telemed is just like the doctor’s office, Bodine said. They talk about how long a symptom has been going on and what medications the patient is on.
“If I think they need to get a chest X-ray or get medication, I can electronically submit a prescription,” or order an X-ray, she said. “It’s almost the same as sitting at the office except I can’t physically touch you.”
“We can take care of 70 to 80% of problems online,” Bodine said. “We have our limitations, but not nearly as many as people think.”
CoronaTeleDoc charges a flat fee of $50 per visit, but this is usually covered by insurance, Bodine said. Medicare patients pay nothing up front.
Many other local offices are providing appointments via telemed, such as Millennium Physician Group, Southwest Florida Counseling Center and even some cannabis clinics.
Bayfront Health Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda are offering virtual visits for coronavirus screenings, as well as some commonly treated conditions such as pink eye, bronchitis, allergies and sinus infections. Visits will be $40 and are not covered by health insurance.
“While a diagnosis of COVID-19 cannot be confirmed virtually at this point, the doctors can evaluate your risk for the condition, answer your questions, and recommend next steps. They also can help coordinate referrals for in-person care if necessary,” the hospitals’ website states. “However, if you have chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, a severe headache or potentially other life threatening conditions, call 911.”
Bayfront has offered virtual visits previously during various disasters such as Hurricane Irma, and is considering making this service available full-time in the future.
To learn more about Bayfront’s virtual visits, go online at www.BayfrontCharlotte.com/Virtual-Visits.
Sarasota Memorial Hospital is also rolling out telemedicine services for patients. Though telemedicine has been established in pilot groups and some First Physicians Group practices, the hospital is aiming to have at least one provider for each of its 30 outpatient offices within the next week, according to hospital spokesperson Kim Savage.
If a patient’s doctor is not yet available via telemedicine, a patient can still have a phone visit to discuss simple questions, concerns and refills. In-person visits will be continued to be scheduled as needed.
The hospital is also planning to have an expanded telehealth program for specialized patient populations such as bariatrics, diabetics and heart failure patients.
Gulf Coast Medical Group, an affiliate of Venice Regional Bayfront Health, is offering telemedicine services to assist the hospital’s patients, according to spokesperson Julie Beatty.
“Telehealth visits are appropriate for patients with symptoms related to the COVID-19 outbreak, a variety of other acute illnesses, gastrointestinal issues, prescription refills, and follow-up visits,” Beatty said.
DeSoto Memorial Hospital has been using telemedicine for awhile for stroke patients, according to spokesperson Sarah Hipp. The hospital is also using TeleNeuro for infectious disease consultations and hopes to use it for pulmonology in the future.
With coronavirus, the hospital has started implementing telemedicine and is in the final stages of putting their e-visit program together. The hospital’s first test visit was performed last week.
“These e-visits are covered by insurance in some cases but our plan is to offer some pro-bono, as well,” Hipp said. Medicare covers e-visits on a limited basis for therapy.
“This appears like it will be very beneficial for some of our elderly,” Hipp said, and hopes to offer the service post-crisis.
Fawcett Memorial Hospital’s telemed services currently are focused on connecting patients immediately to specialists to assist in diagnosis and treatment, such as at their stroke center.
HCA Healthcare, which includes Fawcett Memorial and Englewood Community hospitals, includes telemed as a benefit employees can use for primary care needs, but is exploring the expansion of telemedicine in the future.
Englewood Community Hospital does not currently offer telemedicine appointments, according to spokesperson Tiffany Briggs.
Bodine hopes that doctors start using virtual appointments more, even post-coronavirus.