By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor
UPPER CUMBERLAND – For patients with minor illnesses or injuries, visiting the doctor’s office can potentially mean an increased risk for exposure to other illnesses while there. Or, for those with a high-deductible health insurance plan, a minor ailment can turn into pricey trip to the emergency room for after-hours care.
Saint Thomas Health offers those patients with minor illnesses or injuries an affordable, convenient way to get the care they need without visiting the doctor’s office.
“Who wants to get out of their pajamas when they’re sick,” said Fahad Tahir, President and CEO of Saint Thomas Midtown and West hospitals.
Tahir, who’s been heavily involved with the launch of the virtual care platform, says he’s excited to be able to offer the service to patients.
“It’s been an honor to bring that to this community,” Tahir tells the UCBJ. “We’re really, really excited to have been able to bring (that here).”
Saint Thomas Health, a part of the Ascension network, operates nine hospitals in Tennessee; in addition to a comprehensive network of affiliated joint ventures, medical practices, clinics and rehabilitation facilities that cover a 68-county area and employ more than 8,000 associates.
Saint Thomas Health on Demand, which officially went live in December 2016, allows patients to speak with a physician or nurse practitioner in a virtual setting, wherever they are in Tennessee, by simply using a smartphone, tablet, or computer — all for a flat $49 fee.
While many ailments can be diagnosed through the service with a simple phone call, certain conditions require a virtual face-to-face examination. Ailments and injuries like pinkeye, rashes, or insect stings and bites require a video conference with the virtual care provider for proper diagnosis and treatment, Tahir says.
In addition to the convenience factor, virtual care offers patients an alternative for non-emergency emergency room visits for after-hours urgent care. This reduces costs to patients and hospitals for unnecessary emergency room visits.
“People are so grateful to not have to pay for an ER visit out of their deductible, or not have to pay for an urgency care visit out of their deductible,” Tahir said. “It’s part of our moral responsibility to provide patients access; to make sure there’s cost-effective options for them. And, with everybody having these high-deductible plans, it’s not that the poor are concerned about the cost of healthcare — everybody is concerned about the cost of healthcare.
“We want to help solve that problem for the community at large and (virtual care) is a mechanism to reduce the financial burden on patients with high-deductible plans by giving them access at a more cost-effective rate for appropriate services.” – Fahad Tahir, President and CEO of Saint Thomas Midtown and West hospitals
Patients are still encouraged to head to the emergency room for conditions such as chest pain, bleeding, allergic reactions, and broken bones.
Tahir says the feedback for the program has been primarily positive and that patients say they are confident having a familiar name associated with the program.
“(Patients) feel comfortable that it’s a Saint Thomas-connected program; that it’s not just some website on the internet but it’s connected to Saint Thomas,” Tahir said. “As a patient personally and as a part of Saint Thomas, I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to add to the community.”
The service is built on Carena’s Virtual Clinic platform that includes software, staffing, and operations services and is fully-integrated into Saint Thomas Health’s clinic-based care delivery system. Clinicians working in the virtual clinic follow Saint Thomas Health practice guidelines to ensure patients receive high-quality, evidence-based care.
The virtual clinic also allows current Saint Thomas Health patients to stay in-network for continuous care and helps new patients connect to a Saint Thomas Health provider after their virtual visit.
“We want to make sure patients have an ongoing focus on their health; not just take care of you when you’re sick,” Tahir said. “I think this is going to become, more and more, the service of the future for patients.”
To access Saint Thomas Health’s virtual clinic, visit www.sthealth.com/ondemand.