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Telehealth options taking on greater virtual role

Memorial Health System’s Wayne Street Campus in Marietta is set up to take pre-screened appointments to test for COVID-19. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

As Ohioans adjust to the statewide order to stay at home, telehealth services are available not only to cope with any added stress, but also to meet low-risk physical health concerns.

“During this tough time, we have both dysregulated adults and children all trying to adjust,” said Doug Pfeiffer, CEO of Life and Purpose Behavioral Health in Marietta. “So we are expanding to offer virtual walk-ins for anybody whether they’re already our client or not. You can reach out to our office during our hours and we will set you up with a virtual call with one of our therapists.”

The behavioral health provider said the company will bill insurance plans if health plans cover the bill.

“But if not the county behavioral health board is covering that cost,” said Pfeiffer. “The reason we (as a community and as individuals) are so fearful is that this virus is unknown. Our economy is a bit of an unknown right now. But what we can do is take this stress and make it predictable.”

Pfeiffer suggested limiting exposure to ongoing changes in news, setting specific times to check headlines and social media.

“Try to do it in a regular way and break that up with movement,” he said. “Walk, listen to music, do something rhythmic and repetitive and connect with the people you care about.”

And if the stress mounts too much?

“Call us, the virtual walk-in clinic we introduced with the Marietta-Belpre Health Department and the Washington County Behavioral Health Board to help meet these crucial needs, it’s OK to need to talk through this,” he said.

Primary and urgent care is also being offered digitally through local physical health care providers including the Memorial Health System, Quality Care Associates and WVU Medicine, although doctors are stressing that some health concerns still require in-person visits.

“Coming to urgent care or the ER, people can’t ignore things that could be potentially serious,” said Dr. Jeff Patey, founder of QCA. “It’s safe to get in your car and come to our office… If you need to see your doctor go see your doctor.”

Sarah Holt, director of marketing fr the Memorial Health System, agreed, noting that spam phone calls and text messages have already been reported in the area in recent days.

“We are not canceling appointments via text,” she said. “If (you) are getting suspicious calls or texts we ask that you call your provider’s office directly.”

WVU Medicine guided on its website Tuesday that minor illnesses including sore throat, cough, rash and pink eye can all be initially assessed via video conference with a doctor.

“But if you have severe abdominal pain, these things I’m not going to be able to figure out without a physical exam,” explained Patey. “So telehealth is for some lower-risk questions… More serious things aren’t going to be appropriate for telehealth but we can still give you advice and direct you where to go.”

Memorial Health System launched a social media series Tuesday to also explain its telehealth options and continue the offerings of Changed Plate and Wellness fitness classes online throughout social distancing measures.

“Throughout all of this distancing we still want our patients to take care of their health,” said Holt. “Our providers are still here doing sick visits and still seeing patients… We are not canceling appointments.”

Holt said the system’s app, MemorialCareNow, offers telemedicine, too.

“We have seen a spike recently in our MemorialCareNow visits since this virus has spread in Ohio,” she said. “It is a video conference feature, where you first put in your information and you’re put in a queue until another provider is ready to see you.”

She said at present, the app’s videoconference capability is not billed to insurance, but does cost $49.99 per visit.

“But that’s the only time you pay, there’s no additional co-pay or bill for that visit,” Holt said.

View a video by the system’s director of clinic operations here: https://bit.ly/MemorialTelehealth, outlining that both the app, and phone call, Facetime and other video conference visits are under development to meet the needs of patients.

Patey said his office is using the Hale Health App, separate from the Athena Health online service already in use with the office.

“I have the ability when you send the request for telehealth I can upload a triage questionnaire for different complaints,” said Patey. “This app is more guided toward if you’re already registered into our medical records system.”

Patey said the offering is billed to insurance.

“And if you self-pay then it would be just like when you come in and self-pay,” he added. “They would process that information over the phone.”

Patey said a lower cost price if needed may be provided.

“If you just need a refill, we get those requests all the time over the phone. That may not require a telehealth call,” Patey guided. “Instead of people canceling an appointment, they can keep the appointment and stay home to avoid risk by having the appointment on telehealth.”

Urgent care at Quality Care Associates remains open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and primary care is by appointment.

WVU Medicine Urgent Care, located on 36th Street in Parkersburg, is offering virtual video visits at no cost for patients 5 years of age and older.

This service is not for those in an emergency situation.

According to the WVU Medicine website, any deductible or co-pay fees will be waived.

Anyone who takes advantage of this service will have access to a WVU Medicine provider for treatment for a variety of illnesses.

Any prescriptions will be sent to a pharmacy and the provider will follow up with a care plan and instructions.

Visits can be scheduled through MyWVUChart. These services are available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Candice Black contributed to this story.

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