HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - A new service is letting patients skip the crowded waiting room and see an urgent care doctor from anywhere.
NowCare Urgent Care Center, a Bayview Physicians Group practice, launched its virtual urgent care service a few weeks ago in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
"We're hitting 70, 80, 90 patients a day from people coming in with flu symptoms and all of a sudden the COVID-19 crisis hit," said Dr. Kevin Chou, an urgent care physician with NowCare. "People didn't want to come in. They were afraid that 'I might just have a cold now, but if I go to a waiting room, I might catch COVID-19.'"
Patient numbers dropped significantly, Dr. Chou says, and in some cases people would wait so long to be seen that they had to be referred to a hospital emergency department.
NowCare's new service is fixing that problem, allowing patients to be seen from the comfort of their own home if they choose.
"We've been doing this for about a month and I think all of us initially were a little hesitant because it's new technology," said Dr. Chou. "I have to say it's actually been a really good experience. A lot of stuff we've been taught in medical school and then practice is it comes from the (medical) history. Your history basically will tell you what's going on."
Dr. Chou says anyone can visit the NowCare Urgent Care webpage to schedule a virtual urgent care visit.
Patients click the "Request Urgent Care Now Visit" button and are taken to a page to fill out some information. A NowCare employee will then call the patient and set up a virtual visit for as soon as possible or a time that works for the patient.
They just need a device with a camera and microphone that connects to the Internet, like a phone or computer.
Because doctors from all six South Hampton Roads NowCare locations are working together to respond to requests, NowCare tells News 3 that wait times are often shorter than they are for a traditional visit.
Dr. Chou says if the patient's issue can't be solved virtually, they'll be asked to come into a NowCare location to be seen in-person with strict guidelines in place to protect from COVID-19.
The telehealth service not only helps people avoid an emergency room, Dr. Chou tells News 3. It has also helped patients with chronic illnesses like diabetes or asthma.
"A lot of folks are calling saying 'I'm running out of medications, I can't get ahold of my doctor, I need my meds.' I would just like to tell them, don't let your meds run out. Contact us, we can get you a virtual visit and we can get you refills," he said, stressing that people who aren't patients of a Bayview physician can get a prescription refill too.
Traditional visits are still an option for patients who prefer to be seen that way, NowCare says, adding that virtual visits carry the same cost.
Appointments are scheduled between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Patients who request an appointment after hours are put into a queue and contacted at 8 a.m. the following morning.