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Free COVID Symptom Checker Enhances VA’s Rising Telehealth Use


Friday, May 22, 2020   

RICHMOND, Va. - The use of telemedicine is skyrocketing during the pandemic, and a new online tool is part of the trend, helping patients pinpoint symptoms of a new coronavirus infection.

UnitedHealthcare's COVID Symptom Checker is based on artificial intelligence and offers advice on next steps to take. The application is free to the public, according to Caroline Anderson, executive director of Medicare and retirement plans for UnitedHealthcare.

She says the tool is a much-needed addition for telehealth users, whose numbers are rising in Virginia and West Virginia.

"We've seen already that use of telehealth in the last couple of months is exponentially higher than it was in 2019," says Anderson. 'In Virginia, specifically, we've seen almost a 300% increase in telehealth utilization in the last few months."

She says that telehealth services have become critical assets in the last few months, for helping people avoid the potential risks associated with in-person trips to health-care facilities.

Using telehealth was once considered a luxury, or restricted to rural areas such as Appalachia with limited clinic services, says Dr. Keith Fernandez - chief clinical officer with Privia Health.

He points out that reliance on computers or smart phones for medical care during the pandemic has popularized the practice to the point where it may become a permanent feature of U.S. health care.

"I think many people are going to start to go, 'Boy, if I can go to the doctor like this, you know, I don't have to leave work,'" says Fernandez. "And being able to see someone anytime you need to see someone, this allows you to access a physician all of the time."

A study in the American Journal of Managed Care found more than 60% of patients perceived no loss of communication in virtual video visits compared with office visits. A majority also said they preferred online visits for convenience and travel time.

Disclosure: United Healthcare - VA, WV Region contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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