Hospitals providing helplines, virtual care to ease coronavirus concerns

Updated: Mar. 10, 2020 at 2:13 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms they fear could be related to the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, now have several options to get answers without leaving their home.

Area hospitals are rolling out virtual care options and helplines to address concerns so that people who may be sick don’t have to leave home unless absolutely necessary.

Roper St. Francis Healthcare is the latest Lowcountry hospital to offer free virtual care screenings.

The facility is offering free virtual care consultations to anyone experiencing symptoms in the Lowcountry.

“New and existing patients who have fever, coughing and shortness of breath can speak with a Roper St. Francis Express Care provider between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. any day of the week at no charge,” Roper spokesman Robert Briggs said.

Patients should use the promo code COVID19. Virtual visits outside of this timeframe will be charged the standard flat rate of $59.

Access Roper St. Francis Virtual Care at this link.

Trident’s free Consult-A-Nurse program can answer COVID-19 or flu-related questions at 843-797-3463.

Callers will speak to a registered nurse who can give them medical guidance about symptoms they are experiencing.

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 Saturday morning it is offering a new free virtual care option for people who are experiencing mild to moderate flu-like symptoms.

“Simply sign on to 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.

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