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Ballad Health announces major expansion of its virtual health program, creating lower cost and more access to urgent care

Friday, April 10, 2020

Ballad Health announces major expansion of its virtual health program, creating lower cost and more access to urgent care

Health system launches region-wide telehealth urgent care clinic, and expands Connected Care to more than 300 providers

Expanding on what was already the region’s most expansive network of telehealth technology, Ballad Health today launched a region-wide, technology-driven virtual urgent care center for on-demand care to patients from the comfort of their homes.

Already, Ballad Health has been providing telehealth technology in 108 schools throughout the region, in addition to telehealth technology access to Niswonger Children’s Hospital in every emergency department throughout the Ballad Health system. This technology investment is unparalleled in the Appalachian Highlands, making it one of the more aggressive efforts to create virtual access in the nation.

Connected Care Virtual Urgent Care

The Connected Care Virtual Urgent Care Clinic offers access to care for adults and children experiencing illnesses, such as the cold or flu; eye infections; sinus infections; stomach or gastrointestinal illness; heartburn or acid reflux; minor skin conditions; sore throat; headaches; and more. However, it does not fully replace the need for in-person physical examinations, and some consultations, such as those for strep or flu, might require a referral for a visit to a local clinic for testing or to confirm a diagnosis. The Virtual Urgent Care Clinic is not a replacement for emergency services in the event a patient is experiencing life-threatening symptoms, in which case the patient should call 911 or immediately get to one of Ballad Health’s 17 emergency departments.

Ballad Health already has the most extensive network of urgent care centers throughout the Appalachian Highlands, with 11 centers located strategically throughout the region currently (Note: Ballad Health has 17 centers, but six will temporarily close beginning Monday, April 13, due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)). This technology expansion creates even more access to its already broad network by enabling telehealth connectivity with a flat fee of $30, which includes a visit with a healthcare provider, an appropriate diagnosis and a prescription, if necessary. This $30 fee applies regardless of insurance coverage.

“During this particularly difficult time, when people are concerned about physical distancing, Ballad Health chose to expand our access points virtually, and to price them exceptionally low to ensure people can access urgent care when needed,” said Ballad Health Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan Levine. “As we begin to assimilate our new Epic technology platform over the next several months, we anticipate connecting even more closely with our patients as they have an increasing amount of control over their healthcare from their fingertips. We anticipate some very exciting new technology applications that will make the delivery of care easier for doctors and patients.”

Patients who want to schedule an appointment with the Virtual Urgent Care Clinic can call 423-224-3950 to speak with a patient service representative. The Telehealth Urgent Care Clinic is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., as well as Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Connected Care utilizes VisuWell, a cloud-based, virtual health platform that gives patients the ability to connect directly to their healthcare provider using a web-enabled device, such as a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone. The device must have a front-facing camera and microphone. Patients will also need an active email address and internet access to use the Connected Care services.

Learn more about telehealth urgent care at Ballad Health.

Ballad Health expands telehealth to more than 300 providers

Ballad Health also announced today that more than 300 primary and specialty care providers are now available through the Ballad Health Connected Care Telehealth program, giving existing patients the ability to access their doctor and healthcare team without having to travel or be seen in person.

Debbie Voyles, corporate director of virtual health at Ballad Health, said the expansion of Connected Care’s Telehealth offerings with these providers will be especially important to patients living in rural areas and vulnerable patient populations, such as those who are immunocompromised or have pre-existing conditions.

“The expansion of Connected Care Telehealth now gives patients access to certain physician specialties, such as oncology and palliative care, that previously weren’t available through telehealth,” Voyles said.

Dr. Michelle Estes, a pediatrician for Ballad Health, has been using telehealth services for a little more than a week to connect with her patients. The service is available for school-aged (age four and up) and older children – not infants or toddlers.

“I like telehealth because I can ‘see’ my patients and counsel parents, while they can avoid coming into the office during this time of physical distancing.”

“While telehealth isn’t conducive for all pediatric visits, I have been pleasantly surprised at what I can accomplish via telehealth. Plus, as a pediatrician, it’s fun to see kids in their home environment, where I can meet their pets, and they can show me their favorite toy.”

Existing patients can call their Ballad Health provider to determine if Connected Care Telehealth might be an option for them.

The cost of a telehealth primary or specialty care visit is the same as a traditional office visit. Uninsured patients should contact their health insurance provider to determine what that cost might be. Uninsured patients will be billed the same discounted rate, based on their income, as an in-person visit, and Ballad Health’s charity and discount policies will apply.

Learn more about the Ballad Health Connected Care Telehealth.

What is Ballad Health Connected Care?

In 2014, Ballad Health started its Connected Care program by offering tele-stroke services in six of its facilities. By 2017, Ballad Health had expanded its virtual health footprint to include schools. That program has since grown to include 108 schools in the Appalachian Highlands region.

Now, all Ballad Health emergency departments can connect virtually to Niswonger Children’s Hospital for access to pediatric providers. A tele-neonatology program is also available at Holston Valley Medical Center, Indian Path Community Hospital and Bristol Regional Medical Center.

“For inpatients at any Ballad Health facility, Connected Care will also be used to provide care and consultations by expanding our current resources, including specialties, to all facilities where the need exists,” said Voyles.

Dr. Mihir Patel, medical director of telehealth for Ballad Health, said using telehealth increases his efficiency for providing patient-centric care.

“Telehealth allows me to eliminate waste – such as wait times, transportation and cost. It also gives patients the ability to connect directly with their doctor instantly by erasing time and distance. I believe it is about to become a core methodology of healthcare delivery,” Patel said.

Learn more about Ballad Health’s Connected Care offerings here. If you have symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, or feel that you are in danger, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

If anyone is experiencing moderate symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever or shortness of breath, please call the Ballad Health Nurse Connect line at 833-822-5523 (833-8-BALLAD) to be screened. The hotline is active 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As always, anyone experiencing an emergency should call 911.

For up-to-date information about the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit our COVID-19 page.

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