Utahns can seek coronavirus assessments via video visits

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dr. Todd J. Vento, medical director of Intermountain Healthcare's infectious diseases TeleHealth service, goes over general safety practices like coughing into your elbow as he and Kerry Palakanis, DNP, APRN, executive director of Intermountain Connect Care, talk about expanding their clinical expertise with TeleHealth and Connect Care Services to combat the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, during a press event at their Tele Critical Care department in Murray on Tuesday, March 10, 2020.

Think you might have the coronavirus? Turn on your phone, download an app, open your mouth and say “aah” — and you’ll be on your way to finding out.

Intermountain Healthcare is encouraging Utahns across the state to use its Telehealth and Connect Care services to help slow the spread of the disease by seeking help remotely.

“We are providing screening for anyone who has symptoms and is concerned about whether or not they should get tested,” said Intermountain Connect Care Executive Director Kerry Palakanis.

The cost is a maximum of $59 per visit for everyone, regardless of insurance status; some insurance plans will cover the visit.

And the fee will be waived “if we send you off for testing, or if there’s a situation that we can’t provide service for in a Connect Care environment,” Palakanis said.

The Intermountain Connect Care app is free. Creating a profile takes a few minutes, and then you can be connected with a provider — a nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant or doctor — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Providers will use Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to assess whether a person is at risk of having COVID-19 through exposure to someone who does, through travel to an area where there’s an outbreak or travel on a cruise ship, “and check their symptoms,” said Todd J. Vento, medical director of Intermountain’s Infectious Disease Telehealth.

“If, at that time, we felt that they were at risk for infection” with the coronavirus, Vento said, the provider would contact the infectious disease specialist on call to “identify a potential infection.” Providers and infectious disease specialists will coordinate with testing labs and hospitals to provide care as safely as possible.

And, while the app is a boon to rural residents, it’s also intended for Utahns in urban areas to minimize the possibility of carrying COVID-19 to health care facilities, and adding to what Vento called “a pandemic at this point.” Patient consultations via the app serve as a “buffer,” so hospital personnel can “meet them outside, put a mask on and get them away from others so that there’s not that risk of infection."

And it prevents sick patients — who may or may not have coronavirus — “from going into waiting rooms and getting exposed by being out in the community.”

Telehealth systems are already in use to treat coronavirus patients, Vento said. A COVID-19 patient treated at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray was cared for by nurses as he saw a series of specialists via video to “minimize the number of people that would be exposed.” A patient currently being treated in Ogden came through Telehealth and was referred to McKay-Dee Hospital, which had notice and could prepare.

He added that “very soon” there will be “dedicated testing centers” that will allow patients who have been seen by a provider — either via video or in person — to drive in, have blood drawn and return home safely. But on your first contact with a provider via the app, yes, you might be asked to aim your phone’s camera inside your mouth.

“We do oftentimes tell people to say ‘ahh’ and look at their throat,” Palakanis said.