In early February, only a few dozen patients a day took advantage of NYU Langone Health’s Virtual Urgent Care, having scheduled video visits with board-certified specialists in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Emergency Medicine. Fast forward 6 weeks and daily patient volume jumped 30-fold.
The program’s medical director, Viraj Lakdawala, MD, wasn’t all that surprised. Not only was the flu season well underway, but coronavirus disease (COVID-19) loomed large. “We saw a lot of well patients who were simply worried that they might have been exposed to the virus,” recalls Dr. Lakdawala, clinical associate professor of emergency medicine.
By March 19, what had felt like a major surge just 2 weeks earlier was suddenly eclipsed by a skyrocketing number of video visits in a single day: 839. Virtual Urgent Care was further expanded. All told, more than 200 physicians trained in telemedicine were brought on board, with appointments available 24/7. By March 25, the number of video visits for a single day peaked at 853.
By enabling patients to be evaluated at home, Virtual Urgent Care has not only reduced exposure and transmission, but also eased the burden on overtaxed emergency departments and conserved personal protective equipment. “This is the first epidemic we’ve faced with digital health tools at our disposal,” notes Paul A. Testa, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine and chief medical information officer. “As a containment tool, telemedicine is ideally suited to this public health crisis because it so closely parallels the primary form of therapy—isolation and self-quarantine.”