Virtual hospital visits are the 'now of medicine'

Video consultations connect patients with medical specialists as a new way to receive quick care.

Stony Brook Medicine is just one of the hospitals on Long Island offering patients — the majority of them already in the emergency room — the chance to be evaluated by a doctor within a matter of minutes. 

Stony Brook Assistant Director for Behavioral Health Operations Susan Wilner called this the "now of medicine."

"We might have a patient on the South Fork of Long Island — if there's not a specialist in the area where they live, they can access those specialists without having to come all the way to Stony Broo," Wilner said. 

Mobile high-resolution cameras easily zoom without losing quality.

Stony Brook's Mobile Stroke Unit ambulances use similar technology so neurologists can examine patients remotely, speeding up diagnosis and treatment.

"The sooner we start treatment, the better the outcome is for those patients," Wilner said. 

Virtual urgent care visits had an average wait time of about nine minutes and an average cost of $49 compared with a nearly 71-minute wait and a cost of almost $143 for an in-person visit for the same condition, according to an analysis published by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

At the Center for Emergency Medical Services in Syosset, virtual emergency responders triage 80 to 100 patients each week as part of Northwell Health's ER on Demand. For the majority of patients, it is an alternative to the emergency room altogether, according to Dr. Jonathan Berkowitz, the medical director at Northwell Health's Center for Emergency Medical Services. 

"90% of the time we explain to them what they're going to do in the ER," Berkowitz said. "We usually find a plan so they don't have to go to the hospital."

An ambulance is sent for those in need of immediate assistance but for less severe symptoms ranging from COVID-19 concerns to back pain, board-certified emergency medicine doctors have the ability to call in prescriptions, order lab tests, and diagnose.

"We had a patient with back pain who felt he couldn't get up but it turned out he was taking Tylenol, which isn't great for back pain," Berkowitz said. "We got him on the right regimen."

While follow-up care is needed in some cases, doctors say very often all concerns are addressed on the call.