House calls go electronic at Rush University Medical Center

Doc and computer
Some patients at Rush Univeristy Medical Center can use electronic house calls to get treatment for common health problems.

Sick in bed, some patients at Rush University Medical Center won’t have to leave their homes to connect with a physician.

Starting this month, the Chicago medical center will use technology to offer primary care patients the convenience of an online medical evaluation, according to a Rush announcement. Called Rush SmartExam, the web-based application will allow patients to have an electronic consultation or e-visit with a doctor, who will diagnose and treat them. Rush is one of three providers in the U.S. using this particular service, but more and more are turning to telehealth to expand the reach of medicine.

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Mercy health system announced this week that it is also bringing healthcare providers to patients' homes through an internet connection, a tablet and wireless monitoring equipment. Its program allows doctors to monitor patients with complex medical issues or who live alone.

Hospitals and physician practices are increasingly looking for ways to create convenient options for patients. Convenience is the biggest reason some patients turn to retail clinics for care.

At Rush, the medical center will begin offering the electronic house calls this month to some patients with nonurgent conditions. “When someone doesn’t feel well, it may be difficult for them to get out of bed and walk or drive to a doctor’s office,” Christen Tibbs, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine at Rush and one of the doctors participating in the e-visits, said in the announcement. “Having an e-visit is a convenient way for patients to get advice for common health issues, such as coughs, colds, flu and ear pain.”

To participate, patients must be at least 18 years old and have a primary care physician at Rush whom they have visited within the last year. Patients will have to register for the service via the medical center’s online health records system and can then request an electronic visit by logging in to the system.

Patients will answer a questionnaire to provide information about their symptoms. Doctors participating in the program will then receive a text message that a patient is waiting for care. Doctors will then review the information from the patient, along with a computer-generated diagnosis. Once the physician decides on the treatment for a patient, the system emails the patient a link with the after-visit summary and any prescriptions are sent to the patient’s designated pharmacy. The visits are not payable by health insurance and the $30 fee is charged to a patient’s credit card. The visits are available until 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and until 3 p.m. on weekends, excluding holidays. Patients with a condition that requires an in-person examination will be advised to see a provider.