back from a two-week business trip to Africa last July and only days
before his sonís wedding, Tim Ehlinger had no time to waste in a
doctorís waiting room. He wanted relief from his aching right foot.
In the wee hours
of the morning, Ehlinger was checking online for his doctorís office
hours when he spotted something interesting: the Virtual Clinic
offered by Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. Virtual
Clinic is an online urgent care service that allows a patient to speak
to a physician or nurse practitioner via a video feed. Patients first
fill out a form to provide important background information and can
upload a photo or video that helps the provider see the problem.
"I did it
all from my smartphone in my living room at 3-4 a.m.," says
Ehlinger, who lives in Wauwatosa. "I couldnít walk. This was an
access thing, where the Virtual Clinic made it much easier for me to
get the care I needed."
had his problem diagnosed as a gout-like inflammatory condition that
probably was related to dehydration. The doctor ordered medication
that Ehlinger picked up at 8 a.m., on his way to work at UW-Milwaukee.
later, Ehlingerís pain hadnít completely subsided, and he used
Virtual Clinic again. A second prescription got him back on his feet,
and he was able to dance at his sonís wedding. "It was a very,
very positive experience," says Ehlinger. "Itís not just
the convenience, but the quality of care."
March, Virtual Clinic is the only such service based in southeastern
Wisconsin, and the only one in the state thatís connected to a
health care system, if more care is needed.
Colds and flu,
bladder infections and rashes are among the common health concerns
that are suited to Virtual Clinic care. Patients pay a flat $49 per
call. If the provider determines in the first three minutes of a call
that the problem cannot be managed virtually, there is no charge.
In its first
seven months, the service was used by approximately 850 patients ó
71 percent of them female, indicating that busy moms likely are taking
advantage of it. Fifteen percent of the patients are kids.
of the people say that without Virtual Clinic, they would have gone to
a traditional urgent care, and 20 percent would have gone to the
emergency department," says Mike Anderes, vice president of
digital health for Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin
health network. "So, we do feel we are helping to reduce the
overall cost of care by giving people this option."
In another nod
to improving the patient experience, most local health systems show
their urgent care wait times online, and some allow you to reserve a
place in line and receive text reminders or updates.
At Columbia St.
Maryís, people also can go online to schedule an emergency
truly been a win-win," says Gerard Colman, chief operating
officer of Aurora Health Care, citing feedback from both patients and
patients who donít use a smartphone are able to dial back the stress
at some urgent cares. On-site kiosks provide information about wait
times, allowing the patient to grab a time slot. Itís important to
do that before beginning the formal check-in process so you can, for
instance, run out for lunch and later return to the clinic.
and injuries can come at any time of the day or night. That
doesnít always mean a trip to the emergency room, though.
Marusinec, an urgent care pediatrician at Childrenís Hospital
of Wisconsin, helps sort out the options.
doctorís/hospital website is always open. And you can call
your doctorís office or your health insurance carrierís
nurse advice line even after business hours. "A lot of
people donít even think of calling their doctor," says
Marusinec. Best of all, these options wonít cost you a dime.
urgent care or walk-in clinic can diagnose and treat a long list
of common problems, including ear infections, fever, coughs,
throat pain, bladder infections, minor burns or cuts, vomiting
and diarrhea. "If itís something you could see your
doctor for during the business day, you definitely could come to
urgent care," explains Marusinec.
hospital emergency department is the place to go for what
Marusinec calls "more serious emergencies." That list
includes chest pain, difficulty breathing, severe pain,
uncontrolled bleeding, severe head pain or injury, and loss of
head out to a clinic or hospital, be sure you have your photo
ID, insurance card, credit card (for any co-pays) and all of
your medications (including over-the-counter products youíve
taken) in their original bottles. Taking your child to get
checked out? Be sure to pack a favorite stuffed animal or other