SF Bay Area Health-Care Providers Launch Video Consult Options

Doctors with Sutter Health, Kaiser Permanente and St. Joseph Health have started using cellphones and mobile devices to meet with their patients.

by Martin Espinoza, The Press Democrat / July 20, 2018

(TNS) — More northern Bay Area patients can skip doctor’s office visits to get medical care.

Local health care giants Sutter Health, Kaiser Permanente and St. Joseph Health have launched online services allowing patients to consult with medical providers by cell phones and other mobile devices.

The move is part of a larger health care industry shift aimed at connecting patients with health care professionals faster and more efficiently, even if it’s on a 5-inch screen.

Sutter Health recently expanded its Video Visit service across its entire system in Northern California, though it has been available for about a year in Sacramento.

A day after the October wildfires erupted, Sutter Health rolled out video visits to its patients in Sonoma County, said Dr. Albert Chan, chief of digital patient experience. He said video visits were used to communicate with patients — some evacuated to shelters — suffering from smoke inhalation.

“Patients were contacting us through video to see how they were breathing, if they needed an inhaler,” said Chan, a family medicine physician with Sutter-affiliate Palo Alto Medical Foundation.

Sutter patients can arrange virtual visits by logging into Sutter’s web-based patient portal, My Health Online, and choosing the video visit option. Patients then can select from a list of available appointments and schedule the visit.

Chan said the visit can be done via computer or mobile device and is designed for same-day service.

Kaiser patients in Northern California can log into a special mobile app called My Doctor Online using their username and password for kp.org.

St. Joseph Health, which operates Santa Rosa Memorial and Petaluma Valley hospitals, partnered with MDLive, an early pioneer in the telemedicine field, to offer virtual visits 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Jim Boyle, St. Joseph Heritage Healthcare’s vice president of information services and transformative technologies, said the service is available to anyone, not just the medical group’s patients. If someone’s health insurance doesn’t cover the visit, the $49 cost is comparable to that of an urgent care co-pay.

Boyle said St. Joseph launched the virtual visit service in Northern California on May 30. St. Joseph has been offering the service in Southern California since early 2016.

The list of ailments that can be addressed via virtual visits includes: acne, allergies, constipation, cough, diarrhea, flu, headaches, insect bites, nausea, pink eye, rash, ear and respiratory problems, sore throat and vomiting.

Wait times to see a physician vary between 15 and 40 minutes, Boyle said. The service, which currently gets under 100 visits a month, is slowly growing, he said.

“This is really where health care will go, where we kind of already are,” Boyle said.

Morgan Liti, a spokeswoman for St. Joseph Health, said the virtual visit service is now being used as a pilot to replace follow-up visits.

“Virtual visits have definitely been a growing trend over the past several years — all part of the larger industry shift to a more consumer-driven care delivery model,” Liti said.

©2018 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.