Utah town offers a new way to reach your doctor

University of Utah Health and the Salt Lake County Library System partner to make virtual visits more accessible for more people.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kearns librarian Vanessa Lindquist demonstrates how the public can utilize the new virtual visit room at Kearns Library on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.

Kearns • Most Kearns residents have to drive past their township’s limits to access medical care.

But, with not many clinics in sight, a new way of visiting doctors has popped up in an unexpected place.

A room dedicated to virtual care visits opened at the Kearns Library, a first of its kind in the Salt Lake Valley. The space was created in a partnership between the Salt Lake County Library System and University of Utah Health.

Users will have access to high-speed internet, a computer with a camera and other basic medical tools, such as a scale, a blood pressure cuff, a pulse oximeter and a thermometer. It also has instructions to connect in English, Spanish and Vietnamese along with help from a librarian — if needed.

Kearns is the first study case for the U. to develop a standard on how a doctor and health system can partner with a library, Nate Gladwell, senior director of virtual care at U. Health, said Wednesday.

“We’ll study it and try to understand it as we go,” he said. “Does it actually benefit the community? Does it benefit individual patients? Do our physicians feel like the care that they’re able to deliver is high quality?”

Similar models have been implemented in rural regions, often sparing patients hundreds of miles of commuting, Gladwell said. After the COVID-19 pandemic, the U. learned that the same model can be implemented in Salt Lake Valley communities that struggle with access to virtual care.

How the room will be treated

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nate Gladwell, senior director of virtual care at University of Utah Health, discusses the new virtual visit room available to the public at Kearns Library on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.

The room is located close to the library’s front door, and staffers will follow cleaning standards from the U.’s health care facilities after each visit to avoid transmissions to other patrons.

Though the space is meant to operate as a remote exam room, that won’t be its sole purpose. The room is available for all types of virtual meetings that require privacy. Some have already used similar systems for mental health care, court hearings, or calls with military members.

The library advises users to schedule their doctor appointment — the costs of which will not be covered by the library or the U.— before calling or walking in to reserve the room. The program managers also emphasized that there won’t be doctors on-site. Anyone can use the space, regardless of the person’s health care provider.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) A virtual visit room, equipped with a computer and basic medical instruments, offers the public a private space to virtually meet with health care professionals at Kearns Library on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.

There are still some challenges to study, Gladwell said, but he hopes that more such rooms come to other libraries.

“We don’t incur a lot of expense to do this,” he said. “And so, for us, if it goes from one library to 100, that would be fantastic.”

The space will help bridge the digital divide that prevails in Kearns, said Trish Hull, manager of the Kearns branch. Being in the library offers other benefits as well, like removing child care concerns.

The room also comes at a time when the housing crisis has pushed a number of residents to live in multigenerational households, so finding a quiet, private space can be tricky.

‘A little more convenient’

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Trish Hull, manager at Kearns Library, explains how the new virtual visit room offers the community a private space to virtually meet with health care professionals at Kearns Library on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023.

“If you’ve ever had to go across town to your doctor, always that’s kind of a pain. It’s inconvenient,” Hull said. “So if you can just come to the library and meet with your doctor, and your library is five minutes away, that’s a little more convenient.”

While librarians are not physicians, they are digital navigators, Hull said, an aspect that the U. considers the “secret sauce” of this project. They are equipped to help users with room reservations, clean up between visits and assist patients in navigating library resources to find out more about the doctors’ recommendations.

“We help people every day get on computers, do banking, do whatever they need to do — help them figure out how to create their email accounts or whatever. That’s just kind of the role of a librarian now,” she said. “And so this is just another addition.”

Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.