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Two physicians head up virtual ER

Upstate now offers same-day virtual emergency room visits with board-certified physicians

Upstate University Hospital is now offering patients the opportunity to meet with an Upstate Emergency Medicine physician during a same-day telehealth visit through a smartphone or computer.

The new service provides patients quick, convenient access to board-certified Upstate physicians to discuss and diagnose non-life threatening medical needs. The service is available through a smartphone or any digital device with a camera.

Patients can make an appointment online through the MyChart Patient Portal or call 315-464-5577 for help setting up a MyChart account and to make the appointment. Upstate Emergency Medicine will email the patient a link to connect with a doctor, meaning no new additional software is necessary. Most calls will last about 15 minutes, said William Paolo, MD, associate professor and interim chair for emergency medicine and co-founder of the new program.

Paolo said the service is a helpful option for patients looking to speak with a physician about minor injuries or concerns – cuts, sprains, sore throats, coughs, colds, etc. The service has been in the works for many months, long before the coronavirus pandemic, Paolo said. The virtual emergency room visits should be seen as a complementary service for patients but not in place of medical emergencies or a warranted trip to the emergency department, which is taking abundant precautions to remain a safe space for patients during the pandemic, he said.

“We’re not trying to keep people out of the emergency room. I’m actually trying to encourage people to come back to the emergency room especially if it’s necessary,” Paolo said. “We’ve seen the harm that can occur by not taking care of chronic medical conditions. The message here is if you’re going to go to an urgent care center with a minor complaint, you can just come and see us online.”

Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine Derek Cooney, MD, LEO, FACEP, FAAEM, worked with Paolo to found the service at Upstate.

“You’re getting direct, one-on-one attention from a board-certified emergency physician, whereas in the emergency department even, we’re pulled in so many different directions,” Cooney said. “This is a patient’s opportunity to really go face-to-face and have their very own board-certified emergency physician who is completely focused on their care and can get them quickly through their scheduled appointment.

“This is a unique experience that we’re offering for patients and it’s definitely superior to an urgent care type environment.”

The service is available 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday with plans to expand to 16-hour days, seven days a week, Paolo said. Physicians will see patients of all ages and all insurance carriers are accepted, as well as a self-pay option if the patient prefers.

The new service has many benefits to patients, according to Paolo and Cooney. Patients don’t have to arrange for transportations to go into a doctor’s office or wait to see a primary care physician at a time when many offices are busy or operating with limited staff.

Another benefit is the physician can seamlessly order a prescription and additional testing including bloodwork or X-rays, Paolo said. There may be situations when the physician recommends the person visit the emergency department in person, Paolo said, but for now he anticipates people using the service for more minor concerns or conditions.

“Essentially this is a virtual urgent care center,” Paolo said. “It’s a way for your everyday minor annoyances that you can get taken care of and not have to venture out of your house.”

The service will also be helpful to follow up with patients after they’ve been seen and treated in-person in the emergency department, Paolo and Cooney said.

“There are times when we need to follow up with a patient within 72 hours after having been seen here and that’s not always possible,” Cooney said. “This makes that possible in a very easy, efficient way.”

And while it’s preferred that the patient conduct the appointment via video, doctors can discuss issues with patients by phone if necessary. The appointment software Upstate is using also includes an option for the hearing impaired, Cooney said. That option allows the doctor to text the patient a question and the patient can respond either in writing or by speaking.

“This is a great thing for Upstate because in our gigantic catchment area, all of those people who would like to deal with the Upstate name and Upstate physicians knowing that we attract the best physicians and the best nurses and have the best team assembled as a tertiary care resource center but don’t have the time or ability to travel all the way down to see us,” he said. “Now all of these people can see us from the comfort of their home.”

 

Caption: Drs. Derek Cooney and William Paolo are co-founders of the virtual ER program.

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