2YH: Accessing a provider from the comfort of your home

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) Getting sick usually results in a doctor visit or waiting in the emergency room, but what if that wait time could be cut in half? Or what if you could be diagnosed right from the comfort of your own home? It was only a matter of time before virtual visits popped up in Alaska. Think of it as healthcare on demand. It's not only about convenience, but accessibility.

Lead Provider Juliet Santos with Alaska Express Care Clinic walks us through the steps of a virtual visit using her smartphone.

"Before you even get up out of bed you can decide well I can go to the clinic or I can just take my phone and I can access the express care virtual visit," said Lead Provider, Juliet Santos of Alaska Express Care Clinics.

She's on staff at the Huffman location in Anchorage. It's one of two clinics open right now 7 days a week. These clinics are changing the way patients reach a provider. Insurance or not, patients aren't turned away. It's as easy as downloading the app, answering a few questions and waiting for a provider to appear on your screen.

"Maybe they've had a bad experience before. By doing this, you can access us from the comfort of your own home and it just really helps them relax and not be so afraid," said Santos.

The idea behind bringing this service to Alaska was in part due to a big push from the Public Education Health Trust.

"Our members in the southeast area, they're able to dial in and use the express care option as well as our members in the local elementary schools are able to pop down and have that 20 minute visit to get their testing for their strep throat," said Rhonda Prowell-Kitter, Plan Administrator at the Public Education Health Trust.

"Patients are finding value in that because they are saving themselves hours waiting in the emergency room trying to be seen for a cold or cough or even bronchitis," added Santos.

The virtual visit process is pretty simple. Santos walked Channel 2's Ariane Aramburo through the steps using her smartphone. Just as if you were in person, the provider on the other end goes through a list of questions and in some cases will walk you through a self exam. For example they may ask you to tug on your ear or feel around your throat. The providers are also able to prescribe medication virtually and if they can't treat you, they don't charge you.

"We also ask you would it be okay for us to do this culture, would it be okay for us to do this and if you decide you know what I can't afford that, I can only pay $149, we don't have to go there and we will treat you to the best of our abilities with your capabilities," said Santos.

Two express care clinics are now open with 3 more to come. The minimum cost for a virtual visit is $49 and a walk-in visit to the clinic is $149. If you need to get lab work done, it's optional. If you start out on a virtual visit and are referred to one of the express care clinics, you're not double charged. The cost is applied to the total. The clinics can provide a list of primary care providers in the area too.

"Maybe you have a stomach ache, maybe you have a very simple urinary tract infection that you've never had before, those are some of the things that people are really coming to us for. So when you walk into a clinic, those are the very same providers that are providing care virtually," said Santos.

The app is called Providence Health Connect and it's free.

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