A few weeks ago, Tenino's Diana Rae found herself in a very common situation.
"I had had a bad cold for about three weeks. It evolved into a sinus infection. But I was so fatigued with trying to get through the work day that I didn't have the energy to go sit in a [doctor's] office."
Then she remembered her employer, Tacoma-based Franciscan Health System, offers Virtual Urgent Care. She could just video chat with a doctor. She called the number on a Friday afternoon, a time when it's usually impossible to get in, and a doctor called her back within five minutes. She says Dr Green asked her all the usual questions a doctor would ask, and then he had her help him do a physical exam. By the end of the exam, Diana was able to get a prescription, from the comfort of her couch.
If the idea of seeing a doctor without leaving the house appeals to you, you're in luck. Last Monday, Franciscan Health System made Virtual Urgent Care public, for anyone in Washington state.
"The types of clinical conditions that we can take care of virtually are really not much different than the top 10 things that you might go to an urgent care for," says Franciscan's Chief Operating Officer Cliff Robertson. "So it's everything from, you wake up with a terrible sore throat or you're have nausea and vomiting or you hurt your back. Those are the types of conditions that can be cared for appropriately through a virtual visit."
Cliff says urgent care often gets clogged with people who don't even need a full physical exam.
"So whether it's a new mom with a baby that's crying at three in the morning or a young adult who is otherwise healthy who now, all of a sudden, has something bothering him. Most folks, unless you're clinically trained, you don't know if it's serious or it's not serious. Can I wait this out or do I need to go to the emergency room? That's why we're providing these services, to help folks be able to answer those questions."
Virtual Urgent Care is available 24/7 and on weekends. The visits are $35 and they don't accept insurance.
"Some folks have asked, 'Well, what happens if I go through all this, you take my credit card information, and then I need to be referred to an emergency room?' We don't charge you. That $35 is for when we're able to take care of you, virtually. If we can't take care of you then we will refer you on to a more more appropriate level of care. So you may call with a condition or complaint that is not appropriate for virtual care and you will be referred on."
Diana thinks the service is also great for people taking care of elderly parents and...
"For someone like me who lives in the country, I'm ten to 15 miles away from a family practice office, much less an urgent care or a hospital. It's a wonderful way to be able to connect in without actually, physically having to go there. If weather is bad, there's ice on the road."
For those who don't have a web cam, a phone call can work in some situations.
Click here for a link to Virtual Urgent Care.