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Dr. Brian Miller is among the Cone Health providers who develop care plans for patients using telehealth options, such as a video visit or e-mail questionnaires.

GREENSBORO — If you've heard the word "telehealth" mentioned a lot lately but don't know how it works and how it can help, you're not alone.

State and local health officials say now is a great time to learn how to use telehealth to connect online with a health care provider about minor symptoms. It just takes a smartphone, tablet or computer.

The cost is a flat fee, paid online, whether you have insurance or not.

"Telehealth has always been a convenient, low cost way to receive quality care for minor acute illnesses," Charisse Hutcherson, director of Cone Health Connected Care, said, noting that this service allows residents to protect themselves and others during the pandemic.

As more counties enact "stay at home" or "shelter in place" orders, some independent physicians and insurance companies are also offering telehealth to meet the needs of consumers. Health care officials encourage people to check with their doctor's office and insurance company about options.

Most hospitals in the Triad area offer an online tool called MyChart. Someone with a MyChart account can conduct an electronic visit or an "e-Visit" by email with a health care provider.

Typically, the cost is $35, but Cone Health is waiving the fee for anyone who wants an e-Visit to help assess minor symptoms they feel may be related to the new coronavirus.

MyChart users fill out a questionnaire about symptoms and will usually receive a response within an hour with a prescribed care plan, Hutcherson said. Any prescription medicines will be sent electronically to the patient's preferred pharmacy.

Another option is called a video or virtual visit. Through Cone Health's service, a patient would pay $55 online to speak screen-to-screen (or by phone) with a provider about his or her symptoms. The service offers 24/7 availabilty year-round, even on holidays.

For details about different options, Cone Health encourages residents to go online at conehealth.com/services/virtual-care.

Novant Health also offers MyChart, as well as on-demand and scheduled video visits, for roughly the same prices. The health system provides a cost breakdown online at NovantHealth.org/virtualcare, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Some insurance companies may cover part of the cost of a video visit, so residents are encouraged to check prior to requesting one.

Novant Health also offers a lightweight, portable device for purchase called TytoHome to enhance the video visit experience. The device can collect and send information about a patient's temperature and heart rate, and it can be used to assess breathing. The device has a camera to show images of a patient's skin, throat, ear, etc.

People do not need a physician referral to purchase the TytoHome device, which is listed at $149 on Novant's website.

Families who have relatives in other states can check to see if their local health care system offers MyChart. It's an easy way for older relatives, especially, to seek treatment for a possible sinus infection or allergies without having to sit in a waiting room.

Hospital officials emphasize that anyone who has a serious or urgent medical issue should either call 911 or seek immediate treatment.

Dr. Valerie Leschber, Cone Health's chief medical information officer, said providers are seeing increased use of telehealth options as people are asked to stay home.

“I personally expect that, even after COVID-19 has come and gone, our public demand for continued ease of access to care via a virtual platform is a healthcare trend that is here to stay,” Leschber said.

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