Recovering from COVID-19 at home: Health care system finds success in app, virtual appointments

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — New COVID-19 hospitalizations are down significantly in our area from their peak in early January, but health care workers are still doing everything they can to keep the trend moving in the right direction.

Baylor Scott & White Health said their team has found success in utilizing their app and other digital outlets for patient care.

Dr. Radha Mahale said their team of primary care physicians have been able to screen the severity of patients’ symptoms, either virtually or in their clinics. They aim to “triage” patients — helping them decide what type and level of care they need.

“We understand that that is not always intuitive for everyone,” she said. “So that’s why we have this Digital Care Journey — to help them decide when their symptoms are bad enough to go to the emergency room, or they can have a video visit with their doctor to help them decide.”

Baylor Scott & White Health has had the technology since before the coronavirus began to spread, but Dr. Mahale said the pandemic has made it increasingly important, especially when ICU admissions began to spike after the holidays and put a strain on the health care system in Central Texas.

On Jan. 9, the seven-day rolling average of new hospitalizations was recorded at 94. As of Friday, Austin Public Health data showed that dropped to 63. The data also showed the positivity rate slowly falling, at 12.4%.

“That is exactly what our goal is: to have patients recover from home and not go to the emergency room unless they absolutely need to,” she explained.

A patient uses an iPhone app on their phone to set up a medical appointment. (Photo provided by Baylor Scott & White Health team)

The virtual care options go beyond the initial screening. Dr. Mahale explained patients can check-in with a health coach multiple times a day and even meet with their physician virtually to monitor any worsening symptoms. She also noted many of their patients have invested in their own pulse oximeters, a device used to measure heart rate and oxygen saturation levels from home.

“We can actually do quite a bit of assessment just seeing and talking to a patient — getting the sense of their symptoms,” she said. “If we feel like we need to hear their lungs or really examine them, we can bring them to the clinic to do that, instead of sending them to the emergency room.”

For most mild cases of the virus, Dr. Mahale suggested hot tea, over-the-counter medication and frequent check-ins with your care team digitally, if your symptoms begin to get worse and if they do, she urged patients not to hesitate.

“If you are really having a major health issue… people should go to get the care they need,” she said.

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