How to Use Virtual Care for Your Healthcare Needs

Your sore throat has gotten progressively worse recently, and now you might have to make a trip to the doctor’s office or an urgent care clinic. To find out what you have, you need to get it checked out, and for that, you must call your boss, arrange for child care and possibly wait hours to be seen.

In this situation, there might be another way: virtual care.

“Virtual care can help meet the demand of patients who have urgent needs,” says UNC Health primary care doctor Amir Barzin, DO, who is the medical director for UNC Health Virtual Care Services. “If someone has a sore throat or a urinary tract infection, they don’t have to go to urgent care to be seen. Instead, we can assess them, order the test they may need with one of our lab partners and prescribe the treatment in a timely fashion.”

Virtual care, which became widespread during the COVID-19 pandemic, remains a viable option for a number of conditions. Dr. Barzin explains the current virtual care landscape and how the types of virtual care are continuing to expand.

Ways to Virtually See a Provider

UNC Health has several ways to see providers virtually:

  • Video visits and telephone visits with a provider of your choice, including primary care providers and some specialists, can be scheduled through My UNC Chart.
  • UNC Health Virtual Care Now is an on-demand video visit with a primary care provider and is available from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, 365 days a year.
  • E-Visits allow you to fill out a secure questionnaire to be reviewed by a UNC Health provider without a scheduled appointment. E-Visits are available through My UNC Chart.

Conditions that usually can be evaluated through a virtual visit include allergies, colds, coughs, flu, fever, diarrhea, urinary issues, headaches, migraines, mild stomachaches, pinkeye, rashes and sore throats, although providers may have their own lists of conditions that qualify for a virtual visit. Dr. Barzin recommends that you review your provider’s list to understand what can be seen without a physical exam.

“When people use the list of conditions that can be seen virtually, they usually end up in the right place,” Dr. Barzin says. “We’re dedicated to finding the right ways to expand virtual care. It’s an evolving field, and we want to continue to offer ways to meet patient needs. If a condition isn’t listed there now, that doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future.”

More Opportunities for Virtual Care

One area where the use of virtual care is growing is in chronic disease management and remote monitoring.

“Many patients think that complex care can’t be managed virtually,” Dr. Barzin says. “It is possible to care for patients with chronic diseases through a combination of in-person and virtual visits.”

You should ask your doctor about the possibility of using both types of visits. Once care is established in person, it is easier to implement virtual options. Dermatology virtual care, for example, may be possible once an initial physical exam and any necessary biopsies are completed. Similarly, virtual physical therapy may be an option once your therapist has evaluated your needs and taught you the proper way to perform certain exercises.

Besides disease management, virtual care is a good option for medications.

“Medication management is a great example of how the UNC system works together,” Dr. Barzin says. “If you’re a patient at UNC Health, any provider can look at your chart and see your prescriptions and what they’re used for. We can easily refill your medication through a virtual visit if needed.”

However, virtual care providers do not prescribe controlled substances, such as opioids for pain management and medications for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Dr. Barzin says.

UNC Health also uses virtual care to address mental health needs across the state. The UNC Health Acute Telepsychiatry Service features virtual psychiatric consultations provided by the UNC Department of Psychiatry to UNC locations across the state.

“The UNC Department of Psychiatry faculty are getting patients the correct care more quickly by completing virtual assessments,” Dr. Barzin says.

Shortening the turnaround time for psychiatry consultations frees up hospital beds for other people who need care, he says.

Dr. Barzin says that UNC is also working to provide virtual specialty consultations for infectious diseases for patients staying at the hospital.

“Virtual care opens a lot of doors for subspecialty care,” he says.

Virtual options are convenient for people who live far away from a care facility. Because of state licensure requirements, you must be physically within North Carolina at the time of your appointment to receive virtual care from a provider in the state.

“Our goal at UNC is to provide high-quality care for everyone across the state,” Dr. Barzin says. “There are lots of opportunities to be seen virtually, if appropriate, that could save people hours in travel time if they are located in the mountains or at the beach.”

Talk to your doctor about whether your appointments can take place virtually. Need a doctor? Find one near you.