Tucson Medical Center is the first hospital in Southern Arizona to launch an app that will allow a person to visit face-to-face with a doctor over a smartphone.
“Today’s patients are increasingly comfortable in a tech environment,” said Frank Marini, TMC senior VP and chief information officer. The hospital is hoping to use this fact to make health care more accessible and convenient.
The free app, called TMC CareNow, allows anyone who downloads it to have access with a physician at any time, from any location using the internet and camera on their smartphone, tablet or computer.
The app is not meant to replace in-person visits to primary-care doctors. It is for people needing immediate medical attention, but who do not need to go to an emergency room, said Jim Marten of TMC communications.
All languages can be accommodated through a third-party translation service, Marten said.
A virtual visit with an Arizona Medical Board-certified and Arizona-licensed doctor costs $49 per patient. Patients have an option to use their Health Savings Account to pay for the visit. Health insurance does not cover the service.
Patients can upload pictures of a rash, for example, or other ailments that the doctor can then use to prescribe medication or offer a treatment plan, said Mary Atkinson, TMC director of wellness.
If a physician says an ER visit is necessary, patients will not be charged for their virtual visit, Marten said.
If a doctor recommends a follow-up appointment with a primary-care physician and a patient does not have one, then the patient will be sent resources, links and other information to get them in contact with a primary-care doctor nearby.
App users can also invite a third party to the appointment, Atkinson said.
“For example, if you have an adult child who’s a little unsure, you can be on call with them,” even from a different location, she said.
Anyone 18 and older can create an account. Minors can have their own personal profiles under a parent’s name.
The wait time to visit with a doctor can range from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on app traffic.
While waiting, the app will take you to a virtual waiting room. Your phone will audibly “ping” when a doctor is ready to chat, Marten said.
This app is useful for those who can’t take off work or school. Also, those in rural communities now can avoid long commutes.
Or, “think about the mom with three kids, but just one is sick. Now, she doesn’t have to take all three in at once,” Atkinson said.
The technology is “implemented to provide immediate care when and where patients need it,” said Judy Rich, TMC CEO.
TMC officials said the new app has several security controls in place to safeguard information from cyberattacks and that it meets security standards for protecting patient privacy.
TMC officials said they are working on making TMC One doctors available for consultation on the app.
TMC also announced the launch of another app, called TMC HealthCare, which has combined all of TMC’s digital offerings in one place, including the TMC CareNow app and other digital platforms.
Both apps are available from the Google and Apple app stores.