Syracuse, N.Y. – Upstate University Hospital is now offering patients virtual emergency room visits through a smartphone or computer.

Patients can set up same-day telemedicine visits with Upstate emergency doctors to discuss and diagnose non-life threatening health problems.

The new service comes at a time when many people fear they will get infected with coronavirus if they go to an emergency room. Nearly half of Americans have delayed or skipped care during the pandemic, according to a national poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Upstate says it’s not trying to keep people out of its ER. It says the virtual visits are designed to help patients with minor problems like cuts, sprains, sore throats, coughs and colds.

“I’m actually trying to encourage people to come back to the emergency room especially if it’s necessary,” Dr. William Paolo, co-founder of the new program, said in a prepared statement. “We’ve seen the harm that can occur by not taking care of chronic medical conditions. The message here is if you’re going to go to an urgent care center with a minor complaint, you can just come and see us online.”

The use of telemedicine has soared during the pandemic. Excellus BlueCross BlueShield reported earlier this week its members used telemedicine 2.6 million times during the first four months of this year. That’s up from 290,000 telemedicine visits for all of 2019, a nearly nine-fold increase. Excellus attributed the spike to the pandemic.

Private insurers, Medicare and Medicaid cover telemedicine.

Upstate and many other hospitals have increased telemedicine services during the pandemic. Upstate said it began developing the virtual ER visit program before the pandemic hit.

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Upstate said patients can make a virtual ER appointment through Upstate’s MyChart patient portal or by calling 315-464-5577. Upstate will email the patient a link to connect with a doctor. Most visits will last 15 minutes.

James T. Mulder covers health news. Have a news tip? Contact him at (315) 470-2245 or jmulder@syracuse.com



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