In the past few weeks, a revolution in medical care came to life at Novant Health. And who knows, you may have been part of the movement: a stunning rise in video visits.

Anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted more than 70,000 video visits at Novant Health since March 12. The service allows you to meet with a provider from the comfort of your home.  

It’s also a key strategy in the effort to maintain social distancing and control the spread of the novel coronavirus. The fewer people driving to doctor appointments and sitting in waiting rooms, the lower the chance of coming into contact with the virus.

While the option for video visits has been in place for years, lack of government and insurance coverage stood in the way. And patients and doctors were wary about the idea.  

But when COVID-19 started sweeping across America, insurance rules relaxed, and doctors and patients had the motivation they needed to give it a try.

“Patients wanted to stay home and then — fast forward — they were told to stay home,” said Stephanie Landry, senior director of digital health and engagement for Novant Health. “It was a combination of the demand and us realizing we had to adapt to literally meet patients where they are.”

Another way to look at it: “In just 48 hours, we advanced five years into the future,” said Dr. Hank Capps, senior vice president and chief digital health and engagement officer for Novant Health.

How it works

Novant Health has a variety of virtual visits options for patients that range from an e-visit to scheduled and on-demand video visits. All it requires is a smartphone/laptop/tablet and a MyChart account, which is free. More than 1 million people now use the tool to communicate with their doctor, check their medical records and stay on top of their health care.

The newest option is an enhanced video visit using TytoHome, a lightweight, portable medical exam kit. Using TytoHome, patients can connect to a Novant Health provider who can virtually examine the heart, lungs, skin, ears, throat and abdomen from wherever they are – potentially eliminating a rush to the emergency room or the doctor’s office. The TytoHome device costs $299.

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Dr. Genevieve Brauning, a family medicine physician at Novant Health SouthPark Family Physicians, said her office is seeing 80 to 100 patients a day and account for nearly all their daily visits.

“We hit the ground running because we’d already been doing video visits,” Brauning said. “My overall feeling is that patients have really been happy to connect this way.”

Overall, more than 2,500 providers are now available via virtual services. In some cases, doctors are meeting patients virtually from their own homes.

While virtual visits are an invaluable tool, Capps emphasized that getting the right level of care will still include in-person provider visits in many cases and that helping patients navigate to the right care at the right time will continue to be vital.   

“In these extraordinary times with so many unknowns, it is impossible to predict exactly how care delivery will continue to evolve as we adjust in real time to meet the needs of patients,” Capps said. “But the way we deliver care will never exactly be the same after the pandemic.”

Caption: Dr. David Milbourn of Novant Health Elizabeth Pediatrics met with parents Gretchen and Mike Lopez for a wellness visit for 2-year-old Elise. Both parents are working from home at the moment. 

Find the latest on COVID-19 pandemic here.