Employees at White River Valley Electric Cooperative are able to visit with a CoxHealth provider using dedicated telemedicine rooms at each of the co-op’s five offices. Employees are able to be seen quickly and White River offers the service at no charge to staff members.
In January 2014, CoxHealth began piloting OccMedStat, the first occupational medicine program in the state to be offered direct to employers. The telemedicine program was soon rebranded to a larger umbrella and now DirectConnect provides basic care and wellness in addition to occupational medicine.
“With many of our service areas being rural, access to care and receiving care close to home can sometimes be a challenge,” says Lindsey Bobbitt, telemedicine project coordinator. “Many people have to travel an hour or more to see a provider. Unfortunately, some forgo medical care altogether because transportation and time away from work are significant barriers. Telemedicine is a major tool helping us close that gap and keep patients and their families closer to home for care.”
Bridging the gap
White River Valley Electric Cooperative (WRVEC) was among the first organizations to take advantage of CoxHealth’s telemedicine program. At each of the co-op’s five offices, a telemedicine room is set up with ordinary office equipment – a computer and monitor, web camera, Internet service and phone. From that office, an ill or injured employee can log on to the computer and, using special software, visit with a provider within about 20 minutes.
WRVEC Human Resources Manager Trisha Ruth says it’s a win-win for employees and the co-op.
“As an employer, this is a valuable service because we can get an employee treated as quickly as possible, which allows them to get better and return to work sooner,” Ruth says. “The staff that operates the call center as well as the providers are very caring and do their job extremely efficiently.”
White River employees no longer need to miss what can add up to hours of work time traveling to and from a doctor’s office or urgent care to be seen for most minor illnesses or injuries. Employees also save money by not having to pay for the visit, Ruth says.
“We allow employees to use the service on company time and it is completely free for the employees and their dependents who are on our insurance,” Ruth says. “The savings this program offers employees is substantial, including time and money.”
Sara Murphy, a consumer representative at WRVEC, says her first experience with the telemedicine program was great.
“It was a fast and easy way to visit with a physician,” Murphy says. “I was first contacted by a nurse to get my personal information and find out what was wrong. I briefly waited for an available nurse practitioner. She made it comfortable and easy. She asked questions to properly diagnose and was able to call in a prescription to a pharmacy near the office. I will definitely be using this service again if the need arises.”
Making care convenient
Dr. Anjum Qureshi spearheaded the work injury telemedicine program at CoxHealth. She considers herself privileged to be on the cutting edge of medicine.
“So many patients have to wait in emergency departments, urgent care centers or occupational medicine clinics. In telemedicine, the physician goes to the patient in a matter of minutes,” Dr. Qureshi says. “The patient does not have to wait in pain and away from work. It is very efficient and cost effective.”
Dr. Qureshi sees everything from eye injuries to back pain and minor lacerations to burns and rashes through the DirectConnect program.
“Of the hundreds of cases we have done, I believe we should be close to 1,000 now, and less than 1 percent are converted to an in office visit,” she says. “We see them initially throughDirectConnect and we release them through DirectConnect. The nice thing is that the patient can connect earlier with us if they are feeling better and want to be released or vice versa. If they are getting worse, we can intervene sooner rather than later. They do not have to wait for their next appointment like you would with an in-office visit.”
Bridget O’Hara, WorkComplete sales coordinator, says businesses can quickly see a dramatic cost and time savings by using DirectConnect.
“When an employee is injured on the job, the employer is often responsible for paying that employee while they seek care,” O’Hara says. “A lot of time can be lost as the patient drives to the clinic, waits and then drives back.”
Connecting with a provider through DirectConnect usually only takes a matter of minutes.
“Also, employers are encouraged to be a part of the patient visit with the physician to better understand work restrictions and care plans, however it is not always feasible for the HR manager to accompany the injured worker to the physician’s office,” O’Hara says.
“This is easily solved with telemedicine. Occupational medicine is not an abundant specialty and being able to extend those services to rural areas where resources are limited makes the employer’s life much easier.”