You’ve been coughing and have a fever. Is it the new coronavirus, COVID-19? Before you head to the hospital, check out a growing number of telemedicine apps and free services for a first assessment that could avoid a visit to the emergency room, where you risk picking up the disease if you haven’t been exposed.
(If you are experiencing severe symptoms of COVID-19 including a high fever for multiple hours or difficulty breathing, go to the emergency room right away.)
Go through your health insurance
Many big insurance companies have increased their telemedicine services during this pandemic. Telemedicine is an all-encompassing term that includes speaking with doctors or other healthcare providers via phone, internet, or video. Contact your insurance plan or ask your company’s human resources department if telemedicine is covered, and if your company has a preferred provider.
Anthem, the second-largest health insurance company in the US, recently announced that all its affiliated health plans will waive member costs of telemedicine visits for 90 days, and their free Sydney Care app is providing a text-based coronavirus assessment to members. Aetna, Cigna, Humana, and other health insurance companies are also waiving copays for members who schedule a telemedicine visit. You can find more about what benefits health insurance companies are providing here.
Another new development: people covered by Medicare now have more access to telemedicine, thanks to an $8.3 billion emergency coronavirus funding bill signed by President Trump in early March. On March 17th, President Trump confirmed that seniors, one of the groups most vulnerable to COVID-19, covered by Medicare can visit a doctor by phone or video.
Call up your local hospital
Hospitals see huge benefits from increasing telemedicine: their doctors are less overwhelmed in person, and their emergency rooms and hospital beds don’t get as crowded. Many hospitals are already ahead of the game, and have been offering the option of video visits for years. Most of the country’s largest hospitals, including New York-Presbyterian and certain Veterans Affairs locations, offer digital visits. The list of hospitals that offer telemedicine is expanding rapidly, so contact your local hospital before going in and they may be able to put you on the phone with a doctor first.
Try out a private company
Several private telemedicine companies and biotech startups are offering telemedicine services for people who are worried about COVID-19 symptoms. Some are only available to members, while others are free to the public.
Available to members only: Seattle-based digital health company 98point6, located in the epicenter of one of the largest outbreaks in the country, is offering its members text-based coronavirus screening questions. Telehealth company MDLive also offers visits to its members while other companies, like Doctor On Demand, provide a free brief assessment, but customers must pay to speak with a live physician.
Then there are the companies that are offering telehealth visits with licensed practitioners to anyone, free of charge. Startups Memora Health and Ro have teamed up to offer text-based screening and virtual care doctor appointments for free. Drug pricing company GoodRx is offering a free screening through its HeyDoctor platform, though it cannot currently order testing if symptoms are consistent with COVID-19.
So if you’re sweating and feeling chills but are unsure if it’s a cold or something worse, try a telemedicine visit first. You’ll be saving time and money as well as protecting yourself and the doctors on the front lines.