Neighborhood Health Centers of the Lehigh Valley has introduced telemedicine services featuring virtual visits via video chat and secure texting for patients to communicate with their health care team.
The region’s nonprofit Federally Qualified Health Center has partnered with Updox for the HIPPA-approved services. The Virtual Visits allow patients to see their health care provider without leaving their home. It’s the same as a regular appointment except that the patient is not in the same room with their doctor. NHCLV can conduct medical or behavioral health appointments by video chat. There is no software program or app to download. Patients simply use their smartphone (iPhone or Android), or a computer with a microphone and web camera.
An NHCLV staff member contacts the patient about 20 minutes prior to their appointment time to perform a virtual registration and to confirm that they are still available for the scheduled appointment time. They then send the patient a link by email or text to use for the appointment.
Most visits take 10-20 minutes. Appointments can be conducted in English or Spanish, or in many other languages using a translation service provided by NHCLV. Patients pay their regular insurance co-pay at the time of the appointment. Telemedicine visits are available during each of the three NHCLV health centers’ normal business hours.
To get the most out of the Virtual Visit, patients are asked to be prepared to discuss their health concerns and have their current medications nearby for easy reference. Things like a scale, blood pressure monitor, glucometer or other tool that the patient uses at home to manage their health should be available too.
Secure Texting allows NHCLV’s health care team to communicate more quickly and easily with patients who sign up for the service. Potential uses include sending reminder messages for upcoming appointments, following up after an appointment, and asking and answering general health care questions.
“With the rise of virtual medicine coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to be able to give our patients the access they needed to our medical staff without them coming into the office during the stay-at-home order,” explained Melissa Miranda, NHCLV CEO. “The introduction of telemedicine has allowed us to maintain our services while our capacity for patient appointments grew. It provided protection for patients since it allowed them to stay at home while still getting the medical treatment that they needed. Plus, it provided increased safety for our staff by having fewer patients in the office at a time when we needed to reduce direct interactions for safety purposes.”
NHCLV patients need to contact the health center location that they visit (Downtown Allentown, SouthSide Bethlehem or West Ward Easton) to register with their cell phone number. Texting can be done in English or Spanish. Other languages can be accommodated using a translation service provided by NHCLV via a phone call.
Based in Allentown, NHCLV was officially incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 2004 with a goal of meeting the needs for a coordinated system of primary care for the uninsured and underinsured residents of the Lehigh Valley. NHCLV operates community health centers in downtown Allentown, SouthSide Bethlehem, and West Ward Easton. All of their health centers are open to the general public and accept patients with or without health insurance. (NHCLV health centers are independent and not affiliated with any local health networks.) www.nhclv.org