Dr. Ralph Robertson has seen patients for more than 20 years at the Lackey Clinic in Yorktown. Now he sees them through a computer screen while at his home on the Northern Neck in Kilmarnock.
“It’s a very satisfying experience to help someone out quickly, give them a general idea of what’s going on, some advice and sometimes a prescription,” he said.
Last week, the clinic’s telehealth services expanded to accept patients from across the state as demand for remote, quick medical attention has grown since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, telehealth has grown in use significantly as patients consult with medical personnel 38 times as much as before the pandemic ad nearly 60% of providers look at telehealth more positively than before the pandemic, according to a telehealth report by consulting firm McKinsey and Company published in July.
“A lot of these patients just have a toothache or have a minor problem, but don’t have multiple medical issues like many of our regular patients,” Robertson said.
Even for those on Medicaid, it is difficult to find a provider in a timely manner and so people end up in the emergency room, according to Amber Martens, director of eligibility for the Lackey Clinic.
“There’s such a problem with health care access in Virginia,” she said.
Those issues range from lack of insurance to lack of transportation to a clinic where they can obtain care, according to Martens.
In a 15-minute virtual appointment, patients can meet with a doctor who can see their face and assess their need for medication. The doctors can also prescribe medication, if necessary, for the patient, and translation services are provided if needed, Martens said.
The services include telehealth, telecounseling and teledentristry, all provided by board-certified doctors who have emergency room training, according to Lackey Clinic documents and Martens.
Any adult in Virginia who makes less than $41,000 a year is eligible to get virtual urgent care from the clinic, while other telehealth patients must be uninsured, according to Marterns.
Most of the patients seen by the clinic’s seven telehealth doctor’s are in need of assistance with a dental issue, she said.
“We’re seeing patients who have Medicaid and can’t find a Medicaid dentist to see them,” she said.
The program first started in March of last year, but it was expanded to encompass the entire state last week, according to Larry Trumbore, CEO of the clinic.
The clinic bought new technology at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and found volunteers to staff the new telehealth platform, he said.
“We knew just in our service are, there are 29,000 households that did not have insurance and most likely didn’t have anywhere to go,” Trumbore said.
When the Lackey Clinic service first started a year ago, it cost $35 dollars, but as the clinic reduced prices and then made it free, it has seen rapid growth in use, according to Trumbore.
One patient of the service was on a island off Gloucester County, according to Martens.
“They don’t have a doctor right around the corner or a walk-in urgent care 40 or 50 miles from them,” she said.
Two of the clinic’s telehealth doctors are also based in Northern Virginia, Martens said.
The clinic’s relationships with hospital systems helps provide the services such as the newly expanded free telehealth service, Robertson said.
Free and reduced health care providers, such as the Lackey Clinic, help provide care to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get it and thus can help reduce the occurrence of extreme health problems that would lead to large bills and visits to emergency rooms, according to Robertson.
“They support us as we take care of patients to keep them well and out of the ER, which is an exorbitant expense,” he said.
The Lackey Clinic was recently awarded $105,000 from the Sentara Healthier Communities Grant in collaboration with the city of Newport News to expand the telehealth operations, according to Mertens.
The grant money will be used to extend virtual urgent care and telehealth visits, hire a new community health worker, bolster translation services and provide virtual urgent care for the Four Oaks Day Service Center, she said.
The center, run by the city, helps people transition out of homelessness, according to the Newport News website.
Ian Munro, email@example.com