Number of Virtual Doctor Visits Skyrocket

NBC 7 Responds looked at the growing number of people talking to their doctors without ever leaving their home

NBCUniversal, Inc.

A growing number of Californians are using technology to get an expert opinion. You can use an app or a video call to speak to a doctor, without leaving your home. It's called Telehealth or Telemedicine and right now the number of people using it has skyrocketed.

"We went from seeing patients all day every day to all of a sudden being a ghost town," said Dr. Monica Perlman. "We have very few patients that are breaking the orders and coming in."

Dr. Perlman founded the Perlman Clinic, and a few years ago the clinic rolled out an app people could use to talk to their doctors while at home. The app has helped doctors determine which patients have serious symptoms and need to be tested for COVID-19.

"We screen them for symptoms and we send them to one of our dry-by locations," said Dr. Perlman. "Our personnel uses all the personal protection equipment that we have and we're going out there and we're doing the tests."

Other hospitals and clinics are seeing a big jump in virtual doctors' visits as well. On March 24th alone Sharp Healthcare had almost 2,000 over-the-phone appointments and 242 video visits. They say it's a big jump from before the coronavirus pandemic when they had around 50 phone and video visits a day.

Scripps Health also saw a big jump in the number of virtual appointments.

"One month ago, Scripps providers were performing 5 video telemedicine consultations a day," read a statement from Scripps Health. "On March 24, they performed 611 of those sessions -- that’s a 12,000% increase."

Virtual doctors visits pre-pandemic versus Tuesday, March 24th:

Healthcare GroupPre-COVID-19 PandemicMarch 24thIncreased by:
Scripps Health5 a day61112,120%
Sharp HealthCare56 a day2,1683,771%

Doctors say virtual visits are especially important with the current COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's clear that telemedicine has a huge role to play," said Dr. Nate Favini of Forward Healthcare. "We've built a tool into our app that actually allows people to complete an assessment for whether or not they have COVID-19, then it connects them with our care team and we can determine if you need testing or not."

Using an app or video call helps doctors see more patients. It can also help them determine who is in serious need of care and who may just a refill on their prescriptions.

"I think this will actually help keep the people out of the hospital and reduce some of that strain on the traditional health system," said Dr. Favini. "Folks are going to realize a lot of the things you thought you had to go to the doctor for, those needs can actually be met using telemedicine."

Dr. Perlman says we are seeing a cultural shift in the way we manage our health, and it could be here to stay.

"I think the way medicine was practiced maybe three months ago is not the way that medicine is going to be practiced three years from now."

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