It was the Friday before Memorial Day late last May, and Nina Garrett was looking forward to spending the long weekend on a camping trip. But there was a cloud on the horizon. She hadn’t been feeling well the past couple of days and didn’t seem to be getting any better.
Garrett, a Colorado Springs resident, didn’t want to miss the trip, but she also knew she needed to see a doctor for the symptoms of what she suspected was a urinary tract infection (UTI). Working from home that day, she looked online for the nearest urgent care clinic and was surprised to find that UCHealth offers patients the opportunity to schedule a virtual visit 24/7 for nonemergency issues with a physician assistant or nurse practitioner.
- Get care from anywhere in Colorado.
- Available 24/7.
- See a pro. A UCHealth provider will assist you.
- No health insurance required: $49 flat fee without insurance.
- You don’t need to be a UCHealth patient.
- What you’ll need: a computer, tablet or a smart phone.
- Visits are private and protect patient confidentiality.
- Not for serious injuries or emergencies. Not for opioid prescriptions.
- Conditions treated:
- colds and flu
- pink eye
- sinus infections
- sore throats
- urinary tract infections
- vomiting and diarrhea.
- Easy with My Health Connection App.
- Learn more about Virtual Urgent Care.
Rather than setting her work aside and driving to a walk-in clinic to see a provider, Garrett pulled out her phone, opened the UCHealth app, logged into the My Health Connection patient portal and scheduled a virtual urgent care visit. About 30 minutes later, she met with physician assistant Kimberly Dirth through a secure video connection.
Convenient and always available: remote visits with medical pros at UCHealth Virtual Urgent Care
Garrett described her symptoms while Dirth asked questions, such as whether she was experiencing back or side pain, a possible sign of a kidney problem. Garrett answered that she was not. At the conclusion of the session, Dirth prescribed Garrett an antibiotic for a UTI, instructed her on how to take it safely, and encouraged her to follow up if she didn’t get any relief. Dirth phoned in the prescription to Garrett’s pharmacy for same-day pickup.
Her worries relieved, Garrett took her camping trip, along with her antibiotics, which she used as prescribed. Her symptoms cleared up.
The virtual visit with Dirth helped to make her trip much more pleasant, Garret said. “I was very relieved. I knew that I otherwise would have been worrying about it and thinking about it all weekend.”
Virtual Urgent Care cuts wait times for help and gives patients 24/7 access to help
Garrett’s experience points to the advantages of UCHealth’s Virtual Urgent Care (VUC) service, which has been in operation for five years. It’s available to all patients who call from within Colorado. Those who are not in the UCHealth system need only to open a My Health Connection account and schedule an appointment. Rather than being placed in a queue, patients choose from time slots that are available every 20 minutes around the clock, seven days a week. Insurance may cover the cost of the visit; the self-pay charge is $49.
“The biggest advantage is the convenience,” said VUC Medical Director Dr. Michael Mitchell. “Doing a visit from home also means that you are not exposing anyone or being exposed to anyone in a [physical] clinic.”
Garrett would agree. “I could take care of [the problem] in a calm manner, rather than experiencing the stress that comes with having to get out and then sitting and waiting for care. That’s not fun when you aren’t feeling well.”
Boosting convenience for patients: Virtual Urgent Care provides another option
The VUC, which typically sees 100 to 120 patients a day, also helps to allocate care more efficiently across the UCHealth system, Mitchell noted. Virtual visits are intended for patients with a predetermined list of complaints that can be “reasonably managed” remotely: UTIs, seasonal allergies, sinus infections, and cold and flu symptoms, for example. Meanwhile, walk-in urgent care centers, clinics, emergency departments and hospitals provide appropriate additional services.
“We used to go to the hospital for everything,” Mitchell said. “Now we are decentralizing care, with hospitals reserved for patients who are most in need.”
The VUC serves both adults and children, noted nurse manager Olivia Thornton. That’s a big plus for parents, she said.
“We see a lot of moms who don’t have time to go in to see a provider,” Thornton said. “The option to not expose themselves or their kids has been great for them.”
She added that the VUC recently added the capability to receive uploaded photos from patients.
“That’s great for parents if their kid has a rash, for example,” Thornton said.
Carly Mompellier, a physician assistant with the VUC, said that as a provider, she appreciates the benefits that virtual care offers patients. She recently came on board after caring for patients face-to-face in urgent care clinics, emergency departments and in-home care settings.
“I have seen the stress of patients being able to obtain care [despite obstacles] such as functional limitations, time limitations and availability limitations, to name a few,” Mompellier said.
The VUC enables her to “render the best possible care and mitigate the stress that I have felt with patients in my previous experiences,” she said.
After working in “brick-and-mortar” facilities, Mompellier added, “It is a breath of fresh air to have all of the same [urgent care] capabilities at my fingertips.”
More 24/7 services in the works
Mitchell said UCHealth is now looking to expand its virtual care services. Those under discussion include:
- Delivering prescriptions directly to patients via mail or another route. “We’re talking about which patients would benefit most,” Mitchell said.
- Reviewing and possibly expanding the list of complaints the VUC treats.
- Considering sending a provider to patients’ homes for needed tests, blood work and imaging.
“Our goal is to find time to meet patients where they are at,” Thornton said. “We find what is convenient for you, when you need to be seen.”
From Nina Garrett’s perspective, the VUC is meeting those goals.
“I would recommend it to others,” she said. “I was very excited not to have to go anywhere for care, and I was impressed with the service that I received.”