Man talking on the phone

Doctors are ramping up “house calls”—virtually.

And, without leaving their homes, patients are discussing everything from acne to X-rays with medical experts.

During social distancing restrictions, patients have continued doctor visits without leaving home, as more care providers are turning to telehealth. Doctors and physicians are now conducting everything from urgent care to wellness checkups either over the phone or on a video chat.

Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order March 25 expanding telemedical care across the state and creating a telemedical task force.

Some doctors and practices, like Akos MD in Glendale, had a telehealth practice already in place.

Akos has had its form of telehealth since 2016, using an app with technology that connects patients with physicians and doctors 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Akos has a large network of board-certified physicians, creating a current zero-minute wait time to get help and reduce exposure to the virus.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Akos MD reduced its patient visit fee to $49.

“We provide a comprehensive solution for both patients and providers, enabling them to get and give quality health care respectively, while limiting exposure,” said Dr. Swaraj Singh, co-founder of Akos MD. “We wanted to create a solution that streamlined medical care and made it more accessible to everyone. 

“Now, in the time of COVID-19, our telehealth services have gone from a more convenient option to an absolute necessity.”

Other doctors and medical services have jumped on board with telehealth, adapting and finding an easy-to-use program that connects them with their patients.

Valleywise Health in Glendale was quick to transition to this operation by creating a platform while news developed about COVID-19. 

The Valleywise program doesn’t require a download, and connects patients with their doctors through video or audio chats at no extra cost.

Dr. Tony Dunnigan, chief medical information officer at Valleywise Health, said telehealth care has allowed Valleywise to provide care to more people than before. Since the program was launched within the last month, Valleywise has already had 4,000 virtual visits.

“A lot of visits can be very efficiently done virtually,” Dunnigan said. “We’ve gone with a very lightweight chat platform. It literally works on any device with a camera and web browser. If you’ve got a device like that with Wi-Fi enabled, you’re set.”

He said that before the pandemic the office had about a 25% no-show rate from patients, due to either a transportation barrier or a busy scheduling. Now, with telehealth care, Dunnigan said that percentage has decreased dramatically into single digits.

Other care providers have decided to go online exclusively, like Sarah Larson with Soluna Holistic Healthcare in Goodyear. She said she has respiratory illnesses of her own and decided to exclusively go online to protect herself, her patients and her staff. 

“Having me be available to be a good resource for (my patients), having a calming presence let’s them know that for us it’s not business as usual, but I’m still available to them if I need something,” Larson said.

The CORE Institute in Peoria, a clinic that specializes in orthopedic and neurological care, has also found ways to continue providing care through telehealth options. 

Jason Scalice of the CORE Institute said virtually all of its services, from X-ray and MRI consultations to physical therapy, can be done efficiently online while still providing patients with quality interaction with their physician.

“The reality is that patients still really value the interaction with their physicians and this in many ways can make it a little bit easier for them,” Scalice said. “If anything, some patients that would otherwise not be able to make their appointment because they don’t have time, they can still do so virtually and increase their interaction.”

Dr. Nick Hunter, the president of Glendale physical therapy company Preferred Physical Therapy, said physical therapists have some kind of experience with telehealth care, probably without even realizing it. He said family members will ask him about a pain or joint problem and through either a video call, audio description or photos, he tries to help them find a solution.

“Our education exists just by what our hands tell us,” he said. “Because of our assessment skills and ability to identify movement habits of people that are not right, we can make those critical decisions without having to put a hand on you.”

Epiphany Dermatology in Peoria and Avondale has also made a transition to telehealth, seeing patients over FaceTime or through Mara Seigel, a regional manager for Epiphany, said for acne checkups or abrasion evaluations, they’ll ask the patient to send the physician a picture of the skin area of concern prior to the telehealth appointment and then evaluate with the patient over the phone or video chat.

“With dermatology there are obviously some limitations, but for our patients with acne or rosacea and stuff like that we’re still able to see our patients without them coming in,” she said. 

CORE, Valleywise, Epiphany and other providers are trying to keep as much of the interaction online as possible for the safety of the patients and care providers but will still offer in-person visits if recommended by the doctor.