On a camping trip to northeast Washington, an Oregon man had a wound that was starting to look troublesome. Twenty miles from any clinic, he could have phoned an advice nurse to talk about the oozing injury.
Better yet, he connected via video with his smart phone and showed his laceration to a medical pro to ask what he should do.
Express Care Virtual, a new offering from Providence Health and Services, allows anyone with a phone, tablet or computer with a camera to link up with a doctor or nurse practitioner any day between 8 a.m. and midnight. Members of Providence Health and Services get access as part of their coverage, but anyone in Oregon can connect for a flat fee of $39.
The visual element is a major benefit, according to Thanh Nguyen, a nurse practitioner and clinical director for Express Care Virtual.
“Say a mom calls and says, ‘My child is sick.’ On the phone it is difficult to see what that child looks like,” says Nguyen, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Tigard.
With video, a provider can look closely for clues to decide if the child should come to a clinic immediately or can wait. No one wants to make an unnecessary trip to the emergency room.
The audio-video visits became vital during recent snowstorms, when a flu outbreak hit Portland but travel was dangerous. Use of Express Care Virtual spiked to as many as 60 patients per day.
As in a brick-and-mortar clinic, visits tend to take 20 or 30 minutes. And like a clinic, patients may need to wait to be seen. But they can rest on the couch at home, make tea or fold laundry. Patients can keep an eye on a chat box to see when the provider is ready or can request a phone call.
“We use it to bring care to your home,” Nguyen says. That can be especially important in rural areas, where the hospital may be hours away.
Providers speak English, Spanish and Vietnamese. A translator can be patched into the session for dozens of languages.
It’s an interesting historical exercise to ponder with Mother Joseph and other 19th-century Providence Sisters would think if they saw a digital care session underway. Nguyen says the founders of her health system probably would approve, since the mission always has been to reach more people with more care and do it in a personal way.