Online doctors visits now available to anyone in state

July 27, 2018
woman looking at Virtual Care on computer
MUSC Health Virtual Care just launched. You can use it on a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Photos by Sarah Pack

For a limited time, almost anybody in South Carolina can get one free, online medical visit to address almost 80 health issues included in a new program called MUSC Health Virtual Care. To get the deal, which only applies to your first Virtual Care visit, use the promo code MUSCCARES. Once the promotion is over, the cost will be $25 per visit, which is still lower than most other hospitals’ virtual visits. 

Edward O’Bryan is the emergency medicine doctor leading the Virtual Care program. “Our patients deserve a high-quality, low-cost urgent care solution that is available 24 hours a day and is staffed by the excellent providers at MUSC Health.”

Virtual Care is different from the MUSC Health MyChart e-visits that launched in 2015 in that it doesn’t require patients to already be in the MUSC Health system. In other words, even somebody visiting from out of town who’s never been to MUSC can do a Virtual Care visit. They just have to be in South Carolina at the time.  

Another change: Virtual Care offers online visits for children. Their parents or guardians will need to create an account for themselves and for the child. After, the parent or guardian will complete the visit on behalf of the child.

No matter how old the patient is, MUSC Health Virtual Care is for non-emergency conditions only, O’Bryan said. “There are a lot of illnesses, injuries and issues where patients don't need an in-person visit and don't have a life-threatening emergency but may not be able to wait even a day for a routine visit.”

To use MUSC Health Virtual Care, you go online, register and get an email confirming the registration. Then you see a form asking if you have a serious problem such as chest pain or excessive bleeding. If you do, you get a message saying Virtual Care is not right for you and you need to be seen by a doctor in person. If you don’t have a serious problem, you then see a list of categories, including:

  • Respiratory infections and allergies
  • Eye, ear and mouth problems
  • Skin and nail problems
  • Insect issues such as lice and tick bites
  • Medication to help you stop using tobacco
  • Stomach problems
  • Injuries and pain such as sunburn and lower back pain
  • Medication refills
  • Sexually transmitted diseases

If you choose one of those categories, you then get to decide if you want to do an online interview, which involves answering basic questions about your symptoms and uploading photos if needed; or a video visit that lets you see the doctor on your computer screen for a live consultation. Either way, at the end, if you need a prescription you’ll get one.

Doctor with smartphone using Virtual Care
Patients aren't the only ones who can use Virtual Care on the go. Doctors can make the most of technology as well.

All Virtual Care visits are handled by emergency department doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants at MUSC Health. That’s unusual, O’Bryan said. “You may not realize it, but many hospitals outsource telemedicine services to providers who are not even in state.” 

What are the possible drawbacks? O’Bryan said there aren’t many. “Some would argue that the in-person, patient-to-provider relationship cannot be replaced by virtual care. It is for this reason that we do not recommend virtual care as a full-time replacement for in-person visits.”

There has also been research suggesting that doctors are more likely to prescribe antibiotics during e-visits than in-person visits at a time when there’s a global push to reduce antibiotic use. O’Bryan said MUSC Health works to keep that from happening.  

“We use a system of algorithms that adhere to the Infectious Diseases Society of America recommendations for common issues we treat, such as sinusitis. We have an over 95 percent adherence rate to these strict standards, and seek to make it 100 percent with this new technology.”

Virtual Care, which is staffed from 8 a.m. to midnight with plans to go to 24 hours a day soon, is part of larger push at MUSC Health to go beyond traditional settings to reach patients where they are, O’Bryan said. “MUSC is one of only two nationally recognized Centers for Excellence in Telehealth.”