- Telehealth technology is revolutionizing patient care access for urgent care needs at NYU Langone Health. A new virtual care platform will now allow patients to access urgent care in a more cost-effective and convenient manner.
The technology, which allows patients to access an NYU Langone Health emergency provider, mimics an urgent care visit. Patients can use the telehealth technology to receive treatment for cough, sore throat, cold, flu-like symptoms, rash, urinary tract infection, pink eye, earache, and other common urgent care needs.
The service is available to patients over the age of 12 with insurance coverage from Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna, Cigna, or UnitedHealthcare. These patients are only responsible for a regular copay. Patients in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania are currently eligible to receive virtual urgent care through the tool.
Virtual urgent care is an important step forward in promoting better patient access to care. Patients who experience barriers to care access – transportation or inability to fit appointments in their schedules, for example – are now able to access necessary treatment from their mobile devices.
Additionally, scheduling these appointments only takes a matter of minutes, NYU Langone Health said.
The healthcare organization has adopted this telehealth technology to meet patient demands for more convenient care access, according to Paul A. Testa, MD, chief medical information officer at NYU Langone Health.
“Our patients are asking for convenient ways to manage their own healthcare and virtual urgent care provides them an easy and engaging way to access care from an expert physician,” said Testa, who is also assistant professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Emergency Medicine at NYU Langone Health. “It's exciting to develop an integrated technology that extends NYU Langone's patient experience beyond our facilities to our patients' homes and offices.”
The technology will connect to NYU Langone Health’s medical records system, allowing providers to access patient data and make informed medical decisions. The organization did not clarify how it would access records for patients who do not normally receive care from an NYU Langone Health facility.
The telehealth platform will also allow providers to electronically order prescriptions, create referrals, and order tests or imaging.
There are some limitations to using the tool, however. The tool has “office hours,” despite being a virtual technology. Patients can access care via telehealth on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. and on weekends between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Using telehealth to supplement urgent care services is a growing trend in the healthcare industry. A recent partnership between Walmart, telehealth vendor Doctor On Demand, and RB Health, will give patients vouchers for telehealth urgent care visits when patients purchase cold or flu medicine from Walmart.
The move aims to help connect patients to care during cold and flu season and ease traffic in emergency departments and other inpatient or ambulatory facilities that need space for higher acuity cases.
The deal will also work to improve patient access to care, an important goal as the medical industry responds to increasing consumerism in healthcare.
“At Walmart, we are committed to the health and wellbeing of our consumers,” said Annie Walker, VP of OTC Merchandising at Walmart, said in a statement. “We believe that this collaboration will be a tremendous step forward in improving access to healthcare, during a time when people face challenges to getting the right treatment at the right time.”
However, some healthcare experts say urgent care centers need to be wary of making access too easy for patients. The convenience of urgent care centers has led to some overutilization and increased healthcare spending.
A 2016 study from the RAND Corporation found that urgent care and retail centers have resulted in increased healthcare spending. Although the actual cost of care at these sites is less than in hospitals or EDs, patients accessing the facilities when they otherwise wouldn’t have cause spending increases. In other words, the convenience makes it easier for patients to access care they might not need.
“These findings suggest retail clinics do not trim medical spending, but instead may drive it up modestly because they encourage people to use more medical services,” Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and an adjunct researcher at the RAND Corporation, said. “Retail clinics do offer benefits such as easier access to medical care, but the widely expected cost savings may not be realized.”
As healthcare organizations use technology to make urgent care and retail clinic access even easier, it will be important for them to educate patients about correct utilization. Reviewing the symptoms for which patients may visit either facility could reduce the likelihood that patients overutilize them.