In the wake of Hurricane Florence, health emergencies are on the rise and health facilities are overflowing with hurricane-related injuries, leaving people with non-emergency urgent health needs such as a sick child or minor injuries to experience long waits or unavailability of care. UNC Health is working to relieve that constraint on healthcare by offering its virtual healthcare appointment service for free to all people in North Carolina, says WUNC. The service became available for free on September 14, and the relief program has now been extended through September 23.
The UNC Urgent Care 24/7 program was created earlier this year, and usually costs patients up to $50 depending on their health insurance coverage. Now, citizens in the trail of Hurricane Florence can seek help via computer or smartphone with conditions such as pink eye, fever, vomiting, and minor injuries, WUNC reports. This way, patients can speak to a doctor in a virtual appointment, receiving the same advice, care, and prescriptions they would usually get in an office appointment. The aim of the free offer is to allow emergency rooms and health workers in the area to focus on acute emergencies directly related to the storm while offering options to families who might not have easy access to urgent care clinics.
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“It’s almost like having a face to face visit in a doctor’s office, but it’s just virtual… We wanted to make sure people had an accessible, affordable easy option that would be an alternative to the emergency department,” UNC Healthcare spokesman Alan Wolf said.
Apparently, the appointments are accessible over an internet connection in a private and secure setting for patients, says the UNC Healthcare website. The site also includes a list of appropriate conditions for the program’s use: “allergies, coughs, fever, headaches, nausea, insect bites, pink eye, sore throat, rash, vomiting and more.” Doctors are able to diagnose conditions and even prescribe medication (besides opiates and controlled substances).
It should be noted that this service is not meant to replace emergency care for more serious or life-threatening injuries directly related to the storm or not. Instead, it’s meant to offer supplementary care to the region’s affected population at a time when medical constraints are tight. The UNC Healthcare website repeats numerous times that serious conditions such as chest pain should be evaluated by emergency health professionals immediately.
The virtual appointment program is run by MDLIVE, which is reportedly the leading national host and supplier of medical services and software. It became available initially from September 14 to 16 but was extended through September 23 after UNC Healthcare realized the need for such aid at this time. Dr. Bill Roper, CEO of UNC Health Care, released a statement with the announcement of the extension.
“Last week, we said this was a way for UNC Healthcare to serve North Carolinians during Hurricane Florence. Post-storm, we recognize a continuing need for this delivery of health care service for non-acute conditions. We hope this will provide some degree of relief to folks who may not be able to leave their homes or access their usual providers.”
Anyone in North Carolina who is in need of services such as those listed above should visit the UNC Healthcare website or app or call 1-888-909-9681 to register for services. Users in the area should use code “UNCFLORENCE2018” to receive free services.