Editor’s note: With our coronavirus coverage, our goal is not to alarm you but to equip you with the information you need. We will try to keep things in context and focus on helping you make decisions. See a list of resources and frequently asked questions at the end of this story.
CINCINNATI - TriHealth is upgrading its online medical records for a half-million patients during the coronavirus pandemic.
By next week, their MyCharts will have secure video conference technology and direct access to doctors and specialists. Some expect industry-changing results.
Only the sickest - those with viral symptoms - are welcome under the tent at Tri-Health in Western Hills for exams by doctors in protective gear.
Until last week, doctors got paid nothing for helping people on the phone, FaceTime or Skype.
But money is hardly the only reason doctors here are anxious to see patients online.
Last week, a letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services relaxed 24-year-old privacy rules.
"That's a real breakthrough,” said Dr. Bryan Strader, president of TriHealth Physician Group.
From their pandemic war room, the TriHealth Physician Group revealed plans to add secure video conferencing to online medical records by week's end. Short term, it's how doctors working around the clock to contain coronavirus can see other people with less urgent needs.
"The longer that goes on, the harder it is to do regular health maintenance” Strader said, "so having the ability to reach and see, particularly the elderly patients who may be more susceptible … It's a game-changer."
Long term, experts see more.
“This is going to take tremendous pressure off emergency rooms and it will raise the quality of care for people who absolutely have nothing," said Dr. O’dell Owens.
Owens used to run Cincinnati's Health Department and now oversees Interact for Health, a group with 37 health centers in Tri-State schools to ensure kids have access to dentists and optometrists.
"Normally, if you call to get an appointment with that specialist, it could take you weeks,” said Owens. “Or you're going to come to the emergency room and overburden them."
"The only thing we have to be careful of is shortcuts – that is, diagnose people who you really should look in their ear, who you really should look in their mouth, who you really should listen to their lungs before rendering that diagnosis and prescribing that medication."
TriHealth treats a half-million patients a year. Most come for regular checkups.
By next week, they can check in through MyChart.
The government waiver allowing it is temporary, but Strader said, "I think video visits are here to stay."
Health-care systems expect 10% to 25% of future visits to be virtual.
Owens expects a major push on federal agencies to permanently OK phone/video visits – not just for doctors, but for nurse practitioners, too.
Find more coronavirus/COVID-19 hotlines and resources below:
- Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 833-4-ASK-ODH
- See ODH’s COVID-19 resources here.
- State COVID-19 hotline: 1-800-722-5725
- See the Cabinet for Health and Family Services coronavirus resource site here.
- SDH Epidemiology Resource Center: (317) 233-7125 or (317) 233-1325 after hours, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
- See more information for coronavirus in Indiana here.
What is coronavirus, COVID-19?
According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are "a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
A novel coronavirus, such as COVID-19, is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China and has now been detected in 37 locations across the globe, including in the U.S., according to the CDC.
The CDC reports the initial patients in China have some link to a large seafood and live animal market, indicative of animal-to-person spread. A growing number of patients, however, did not report exposure to animal markets, indicating the disease is spreading person-to-person.
What are the symptoms? How does it spread?
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death, according to the CDC. Symptoms can include fever, cough, shortness of breath.
The CDC said symptoms could appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. It is similar to the incubation period for MERS.
Spread of the virus is thought to be mainly from person-to-person. Spread is between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet). Spread occurs via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
According to the CDC, it could be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, the CDC said.
The disease is most contagious when people are the sickest and showing the most symptoms.