Free virtual healthcare visits for North Carolina hurricane victims were extended for longer than originally planned. Virtual visit fees were initially waived for hurricane victims after the storm hit, and were expected to end Sept. 16. UNC Health Care extended their offer of their virtual care service, UNC Urgent Care 24/7, for another week following the devastation caused by Florence. This allowed travelers, displaced victims, or those still in emergency shelters to speak with a healthcare professional for non-emergency medical care for an extra period of time.
For situations like natural disasters where healthcare professionals have their hands full, utilizing telehealth is an excellent way to ensure all patients are seen and heard.
“Post-storm, we recognize a continuing need for this delivery of health care service for non-acute conditions. We hope this will provide some degree of relief to folks who may not be able to leave their homes or access their usual providers,” Dr. Bill Roper, CEO of UNC Health Care, shared in a press release.
Telehealth is a convenient service that can be used to treat patients after a disaster, but it’s not good for emergencies, long-term care, or serious medical issues. Things like allergies, coughs, fever, headaches, nausea, insect bites, pink eye, sore throat, or rashes can be diagnosed and treated via telehealth.
UNC Health Care shares:
“During virtual visits, a physician connects with patients by phone or Internet through a private and secure connection. The physician can diagnose problems, recommend treatment and prescribe medications when appropriate (excluding opioids and other controlled substances). Patients with true emergencies, including chest pain, should still go to a hospital emergency department.”
Post-hurricane care is one example of telehealth’s great potential. But for long-term care, telehealth isn’t the best. Patients who use telehealth for regular visits pay the same amount as those who visit in-office. If a $25 co-pay is required to visit your primary doctor, that same amount will be needed for a telehealth visit. As we’ve noted before, this doesn’t improve your health, it improves the providers’ profits. Also, many telehealth visits end with a recommendation of an in-person visit. That means another $25 co-pay – doubling the price of one trip to the doctor’s office. This isn’t sustainable or affordable for care beyond minor ailments.
Using telehealth to help North Carolinians post-storm shows the benefit of the technology. But let’s make sure that all North Carolinians can afford to see a doctor when they need it – storm or no storm. Sign up and join the coalition to receive updates about telehealth and other issues that affect the cost of healthcare in North Carolina.