Cleveland Clinic doctors encourage 'virtual flu visits' to keep virus from spreading

CLEVELAND -

The number of confirmed flu hospitalizations in Ohio this season is now more than triple the five-year average.

Because the outbreak is so bad, many doctors are telling those who are sick with the virus to stay away from hospitals to keep it from spreading. Cleveland Clinic is using technology to make sure those patients are still seen by a doctor without having to leave their house.

"Last month, it was 50,” noted Dr. Matthew Faiman. “We're doubling because of flu season just revved up."

They're up to 100 patients a day who are being seen by a doctor virtually.

"Just like we have walk-in, express clinics, we also have, now, using a video connection where patients and providers can meet with each other," Dr. Faiman explained.

It's an app called Express Care Online. It's like FaceTime, making a doctor available through your screen 24/7.

"You can see a provider literally within two to three minutes from the time you sign into this app,” said Dr. Faiman. “You have a profile, you find a provider, you decide, 'I want to be seen. I have a sore throat, I think I might have the flu, I think I have poison ivy.' You literally click on a provider link and you have a video connection."

It works no matter where you are.

"People pull off the road in a car,” remarked Dr. Faiman. “They go in the conference room at work. They are anywhere and everywhere. I'm seeing them on beaches and vacations."

Besides the convenience of saving time and money, Dr. Faiman says these virtual visits are keeping dangerous germs from spreading. 

"You're keeping yourself away from other people, keeping yourself less contagious,” he explained. “It's also good for caregivers, in that there's less germs around." 

The service is for non-emergency symptoms. 

"When it comes to things like the flu and common cold and certain rashes, this service works beautifully,” Dr. Faiman said. “People can upload pictures of a rash or people can take a snapshot of the back of their throat and we can take a really good picture of what strep throat looks like, and then we can assess them and decide hey, based on these symptoms, I believe your symptoms are consistent with the flu." 

Of course, not all cases can be diagnosed virtually.

"We have the capability to say this is not the level of care you need,” explained Dr. Faiman. “You need to be seen in the Emergency Room."

Doctor Faiman says this kind of approach to medicine is the way of the future.

"We have to evolve with the consumer, and I really believe that it meets where patients want to go, and I think providers recognize that we have to balance time and efficiencies, and this is such a more efficient and quality-driven approach."

Express Care Online is for patients two and older. According to Dr. Faiman, more health plans are now covering it as a benefit, meaning it could cost you absolutely nothing.

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