Doctors using virtual care visits to treat flu patients

- Hospitals are feeling the strain as people with the flu pack into waiting rooms and clinics. But some North Texas doctors are taking advantage of a new technology to make a diagnosis without the sick person ever leaving their home.

When Dr. Akanksha Kumar with Methodist Health isn't seeing patients face to face with flu symptoms, she's treating them virtually.

The medical center’s new virtual care program called Methodist NOW has been active for about two weeks. It allows people to exchange messages in a real-time chat session with a doctor.

The diagnosis is faster and it keeps the patient out of a waiting room where others might have more contagious illnesses or they themselves could spread germs.

"We're clearly getting inundated with a lot of acute visits,” Kumar said. “Especially when it comes to the flu upper respiratory infections, this is the season for it."

The platform is limited to around 25 less serious conditions like flu, pink eye, or upper respiratory infections. Patients can log on to a computer or cell phone and connect with a family medicine physician in one of the Methodist Family Health Centers.

"I was able to get to them within five minutes and close the encounter within less than seven minutes,” Kumar explained. “I would say we’re aiming for less than 15 minutes."

Dallas-based Methodist Health said its virtual care visits are not covered by insurance and cost $40 per session. But some other local hospitals and physician’s officers offer similar telemedicine services that are covered by insurance.

Some offices also allow patients to chat with doctor through a video conference. The doctor can prescribe medication or ask the patient to come in for a physical exam.


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