In January, Bon Secours Health System launched Bon Secours 24/7, a platform allowing for virtual physician visits for employees of and to residents of the areas serviced by the system.
The telehealth measure was launched in the Upstate in June and Marcus Blackstone, senior group lead physician for primary care at Bon Secours Medical Group in Greenville, said the program has taken off.
“Its use continues to grow and we have about 18% of the visits and it just started here in June,” Blackstone said. “Each market is growing and our telehealth use is growing since January.”
The platform was developed with American Well, a Massachusetts-based provider of telehealth apps. It allows a patient to use the mobile app or visit a website to have an “appointment” with a physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner. The appointment is a live video chat and can cover a range of illnesses from sore throats to sinus infections.
“It’s a trend across the county because of the lack of access to primary care,” Blackstone said. “There is also patient demand of ‘I know what I want and I want it now.’”
Blackstone said those using telehealth as an option are primarily females between 25 and 35 years of age. He said, nationally, the trend is that those over 65 do not engage in the telehealth option.
“If you think about it, a lot of them use it for their kids,” Blackstone said. “Questions about kids being contagious and the answers are quick. People are just more mobile.”
Besides the benefits to individuals, Blackstone said the telehealth market can come with positives for businesses and their employees.
One positive is the availability of the program. Bon Secours 24/7 is available any time of the day or night. Blackstone said the benefit is that employees don’t have to schedule time off to receive treatment for basic illnesses.
Another benefit is for employees working second or third shift. While some employers may offer an on-site health clinic, Blackstone said it is likely only operational during the day, leaving night and early morning employees without on-site care. He said that is where a telehealth option can benefit employers and employees alike.
As the trend of offering telehealth, or app-based health care continues to rise, Blackstone said Bon Secours St. Francis is attempting to evolve and grow with the popularity of those programs in the Upstate.
“We have seen the use and that our market has interest,” Blackstone said. “We have been using American Well’s online medical group, but we are looking to put together our own group here to take those calls and we hope to have that put together by the end of the year.”
He said once the group is in place it can lead to partnerships with businesses in the region if there is a benefit to offering the service to individual businesses.
And Bon Secours is not the only game in the market. Greenville Health System launched its SmartExams program in April and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina offers its Blue CareOn Demand. All three offer some form of consultation with a health care provider.
“I think it will change the way we think about health care,” said Angelo Sinopoli, vice president of clinical integration and chief medical officer for Greenville Health System. “Traditionally, when you are sick, you think about taking time off and spending time in a doctor’s office. There are many instances where that is the best option, but there are a lot of situations where you don’t have to sit with a physician face-to-face.”
Sinopoli said the telehealth function is “getting everyone to function at the highest level of their license.” Blackstone said that was a good thing, especially for the patient.
“This is something that is still evolving,” Blackstone said. “But, the biggest piece of this I like is that it is patient-focused and as we move forward, we can’t lose sight of that.”