Lowcountry hospitals offer helplines, virtual care in response to coronavirus

Lowcountry hospitals are offering virtual care options to help people get answers about...
Lowcountry hospitals are offering virtual care options to help people get answers about COVID-19 if they experience flu-like symptoms.(Pexels)
Updated: Mar. 9, 2020 at 10:00 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - As concerns grow about the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, Lowcountry hospitals are helping people seek answers and help if they feel ill.

Trident Medical Center’s free Consult-A-Nurse offers information about COVID-19 or other flu-related questions. Residents can call 843-797-3463 to speak to a registered nurse.

Trident Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lee Biggs said Thursday the seasonal flu has a much higher risk based on current statistics available than the novel coronavirus.

“We deal with seasonal flu and we have for centuries,” Biggs said. “But this (coronavirus) being a novel virus, we’ve not seen it in this form before, but we have to put it in perspective. We’re looking at about 80,000 cases and up to about 3,000 deaths from coronavirus. But if you look at seasonal flu, that’s 1 billion worldwide cases and about 600,000 deaths, so the perspective and the scale is entirely different.”

Based on current cases, Biggs said those most likely to be at risk for the coronavirus if they are exposed is older populations, specifically those in their mid-50s and beyond who may have pre-existing medical conditions that affect their lungs, their hearts or immune systems. COVID-19 affects those people more severely than it would affect a person in very good health, he said.

If you have shortness of breath or fever, you should probably be seen by a physician, Dr. Neal Shelley said. But if you’re not in much distress, you should call your primary doctor and see what he or she recommends.

“If it’s just the common cold-type symptoms like congestion, then you probably need to stay home, try to stay away from other family members and call your doctor and see what they recommend," Dr. Kenneth Perry said.

MUSC announced during a news conference on March 7 it is offering a new free virtual care option for people who are experiencing mild to moderate flu-like symptoms.

“Simply sign on to https://musc.care and use the code ‘COVID19,’” MUSC President Dr. David Cole said. "Experienced providers will treat symptoms, provide information and give direction.

The director of MUSC’s Virtual Care platform, Dr. Ed O’Brien, said South Carolina is “a true leader in telemedicine in the nation” and one of only two nationally-certified telehealth centers of excellence in the United States.

“With our platform, you can receive care from a group of trusted MUSC, doctors, nurse practitioners and P.A.s, from your home, anytime, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” he said.

People who have flu-like symptoms or just have questions, you can log on.

“At that point you’ll answer a series of questions and MUSC provider can treat your symptoms and give you advice on what to do from there,” he said. “Or they may want to speak to you in person. If your symptoms warrant that, the ways they may contact you are by phone, video or chat. We’re making this free to anyone in South Carolina.”

He said people should use the promo code “COVID19” at the payment screen.

“This is a great tool to get care without being exposed, or exposing others to whatever illness, you may have,” O’Brien said. “Just remember: the flu is still very rampant in South Carolina, and we can treat that with telemedicine as well. We believe this platform, makes a tremendous impact on the people of our state.”

Roper St. Francis Healthcare is providing drive-through specimen collecting for patients suspected of having COVID-19 or flu who have already been screened by a Virtual Care provider.

Patients are being seen from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Roper St. Francis Transitions Clinic at 5133 Rivers Avenue in North Charleston.

“Only patients with a testing order can use this service. The site features a car port that patients will drive under to be seen,” hospital officials said."Their specimens will be collected and sent to LabCorp and the patients will be sent home for quarantine. A RSF physician will then call them with their test results."

Virtual Care is offered to new and existing patients between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. any day of the week at no charge. New and existing patients should use the promo code COVID19. Virtual visits outside of this timeframe will be charged the standard flat rate of $59.

David Bundy at MUSC said that while COVID-19 is attracting a lot of attention, similar repository illnesses like influenza could mimic the symptoms.

“The first step is to reach out by phone to their medical provider,” Bundy said. “Because what we don’t want to do is encourage everyone with any signs or symptoms of what could only be the common cold to come into their physician’s office without talking it over first.”

“Virtual care is going to be critical in our response to this,” Roper St. Francis chief physician Chris McLain said. “Because as many people as we can evaluate without coming around other at-risk patients, the better off the community is.”

Lowcountry hospitals say they’re confident in preparations for potential cases in the future.

“We have a concerted effort here at Roper St. Francis healthcare to be prepared for what may be coming,” McLain said. “We are also working with local partners in the community to develop a regional plan as well.”

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