Dr. LaRhonda Sims sits at her desk smiling in her office while completing a virtual visit with a patient.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Norman Regional Health System acted quickly when COVID-19 began to spread, training more than 170 providers to provide care virtually in less than two weeks resulting in more than 10,000 virtual visits in the last couple of months.

Norman Regional’s primary goal during this pandemic is keeping patients and healers safe. That is why when COVID-19 began to spread, Norman Regional’s telehealth team and clinic leadership worked together to deliver safe, effective care to patients with virtual visits through the Norman Regional Virtual Care app.

“Reducing patient exposures to COVID-19 and minimizing PPE usage was paramount in the NRHS COVID-19 disaster response and virtual care was a great way to prioritize both of those,” said Bryce Ell, telehealth manager for Norman Regional.  

Virtual visits were made possible for a wider range of patients due to Medicare loosening their telehealth restrictions, which greatly increased access to telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries. Many commercial insurers have since followed suit.

The Norman Regional Virtual Care app was already in use for urgent care, as well as for some virtual visits with specific providers, but COVID-19 dramatically increased the usage of the app. The Telehealth team and clinic leadership worked to enroll and train more than 170 providers working in primary care, specialty care and rehabilitation therapy in less than two weeks.

“The Norman Regional Virtual Care app enabled NRHS providers to deliver high quality care while practicing social distancing,” said Molly McCool Hare, Norman Regional’s telehealth coordinator. “Many patients were afraid to leave their homes to seek care, which made Norman Regional Virtual Care the perfect solution for treating patients from the comfort of their living rooms.”

How It Works

Anyone can log on to the Norman Regional Virtual Care app 24 hours a day, seven days a week and conduct an urgent care visit with a local provider for $55. Norman Regional clinics will continue offering in-person visits, as well as virtual visits, for the patient’s normal copay. For patients wanting to schedule a virtual visit with their provider, they can simply call the doctor’s office to schedule, as they would with any type of appointment. Once their telehealth appointment is scheduled, they receive an email with instructions on how to download the app, enroll on the platform, and ensure their system, whether it be smartphone, tablet or computer, can support the visit technologically. When it’s time for a patient’s virtual visit, the patient logs in a few minutes early and they are placed in a virtual waiting room until their provider connects via video.

Norman Regional is still offering urgent care through the app, which saw 203 visits in March and April, but the scheduled virtual visits skyrocketed with more than 10,000 in the two months.

“Patients have been very receptive to these visits, as virtual visits are convenient, easy, and help keep patients safe at home. Providers have expressed the same opinions,” Ell said.

The Future of Virtual Visits

Virtual visits will continue after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, but most likely not at the same capacity due to insurance regulations. Ell and McCool Hare said they are hopeful insurance companies will continue offering the virtual option and look to CMS Administrator Seema Verma who said “the genie is out of the bottle” when it comes to telehealth.

“NRHS has strategically oriented the telehealth department for growth, and we will soon provide our patients and providers with even more state-of-the-art technology so that they can continue to deliver high-quality healthcare to our patients and treat those patients where they live, work and play,” Ell said.

“Effectively utilizing the telehealth tools that NRHS had available was a team effort. Administrators and providers alike came together as a cohesive unit and did everything in our power to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. The successful deployment of the Norman Regional Virtual Care app perpetuated the mission of Norman Regional Health System and empowered our healers to keep our patients safe.”

Learn more about Norman Regional’s virtual visits at NormanRegional.com/virtualvisits or call your doctor’s office today to schedule your appointment.