Telemedicine emerges as care option during COVID-19 outbreak

FILE - In this Jan. 14, 2019 photo, a patient sits in the living room of her apartment in the Brooklyn borough of New York during a telemedicine video conference with Dr. Deborah Mulligan. Telemedicine often involves diagnosing and treating a new health problem but is also used to keep tabs on an existing, long-term condition.

Medical service providers are encouraging patients to use telecommunication technology, whenever possible, to access health information.

As part of the strategies to slow the spread of the coronavirus, people are encouraged to avoid groups and practice social distancing.

UT Health East Texas and Christus Trinity Health System have ways for patients to access some care remotely.

UT Health East Texas said patients, including new ones, can schedule appointments with doctors by calling 903-596-DOCS.

Established patients can use their patient portals to communicate with their doctors and, if needed, schedule FaceTime visits, via computer or cell phone.

“At our clinics across the region, the health of our patients, their families and our caregivers is our top priority,” said G. Todd Hill, CEO of UT Health East Texas Physicians. “We know that despite the COVID-19 outbreak, many of our patients have ongoing medical needs, as well as the need for routine care.”

Hill said that UT Health care facilities are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“However, we understand the apprehension some may feel about visiting a clinic at this time, especially those in higher risk categories,” Hill said. “That’s why we’ve added telehealth options.”

UT Health clinics are screening patients and those accompanying them as they enter facilities and are requiring those who are experiencing high fever, cough and/or shortness of breath to call 903-596-DOCS before arriving.

Christus Trinity Clinic also has expanded its telehealth services and is offering video visits with primary care providers.

“A video visit is a visit with your clinician through your computer or smartphone with video capability and is appropriate for evaluations of most any symptom you have,” said Dr. Andria Cardinalli-Stein, ambulatory chief quality officer, Christus Trinity Clinic in Northeast Texas.

Primary care video visits are available now and specialty visits will be available this week, she said.

Video and telephone visits are covered by nearly all major medical insurances, said a statement from the healthcare system.

“Due to the extraordinary circumstances created by the current COVID-19 pandemic, regulatory agencies have approved new patients to be seen via telemedicine visits,” said Dr. Scott Smith, whose positions with Christus include vice president of primary care and clinic operations.

On Monday, the health system went live with the COVID Health Chatbot accessible at to help patients self-screen for the virus and get direction on what steps to take.

“Patients will interact with our chatbot through a text-chat interface on the website,” Smith said.

“As health care systems adapt their procedures and we all make changes to our daily lives and routines, it is important that Christus Trinity Clinic does everything we can to ensure patients have access to the medical care they need,” said Christy Bush, Chief Operating Officer, Christus Trinity Clinic.

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