SPRINGFIELD -- For common, everyday maladies, for years there was a simple, inefficient, often frustrating system.
Patients not wanting to visit the office would call to determine if an appointment was necessary, or if a prescription could be called in without an appointment.
“You leave a message for the nurse, wait for them to call back, then after you talk to them and they gather your information, you wait for them to call back with the diagnosis -- it’s a lot of waiting,” Memorial Physician Services Director of Quality Gerald Suchomski said.
But Memorial Physician Services, an affiliate of Memorial Health Systems, has come up with an alternative -- an internet-based service to treat non-emergency illnesses called SmartVisit.
“SmartVisit provides our patients a convenient and safe option to treat their minor health concerns when they may not have time in their day to travel to their physician’s office,” said Travis Dowell, vice president of Memorial Physician Services.
Located at memorialmdsmartvisit.com, and also available through a smartphone app called Intellivisit (in both the Apple and Google Play stores), patients using SmartVisit -- after registering -- can enter their symptoms and get a diagnosis.
A diagnosis plan costs $30, and includes calling in a prescription, if necessary. Currently, medical insurance companies don't cover SmartVisit, but there's no charge unless a diagnosis plan is established.
The service became available to all Central Illinois adults, age 18 and older, in August. It's staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, including weekends and holidays, and can be accessed around the clock.
SmartVisit can diagnose hundreds of minor symptoms including allergies, bronchitis, colds, cold sores, coughs, diarrhea, dizziness, earaches, hives, nausea, pink eye, poison ivy, rashes, scabies, sinus symptoms, sore throats, sunburn, urinary tract infections and vomiting.
SmartVisit is staffed by 12 Memorial nurse practitioners, who will respond within one hour -- usually faster -- to patients who access the service during business hours. If submitted during non-business hours, the patient will receive a response the next morning.
"When you register, which you can do on the site or through the app, you put in your full, legal name, and any medications you're taking, allergies, family medical history, your pharmacy and your credit or debit card information -- it takes five to 10 minutes," said Gina White, a nurse practitioner and coordinator of Memorial Physician Services’ SmartVisit. "Then you enter your symptoms, and we have to get a response back to you in an hour, though the average is between 11 and 15 minutes."
The symptoms patients enter are first ran through artificial intelligence, which makes a diagnosis that the nurse practitioners can concur with, or change, once they review them.
"We send them questions back by text or email -- their choice -- if we have them, then we choose a diagnosis -- there are more than 900 to choose from," White said.
The diagnosis will include the nurse practitioner's recommendation, be it over-the-counter or prescription medication, or a visit to either their primary care physician, a walk-in clinic or the emergency room.
"The system recognizes emergencies -- if the symptoms correspond with heart attack or a pulmonary embolism, it will flag it as emergency and advise to call 911," White said. "From there, we'll follow up to see if they sought treatment and what kind of treatment it was."
With fewer primary care physicians, the medical field has worked in recent years to redefine the non-emergency doctor’s appointment. Suchomski said systems like SmartVisit are the next step in that process.
"It's a continuation of the move toward simpler delivery systems than we've traditionally seen," Suchomski said. "It's basically the next iteration of the walk-in clinic. It's straight-forward medical issues that still need attention, but at a level where we can conserve medical resources, which is important.
"It's already in play on the East and West coast. The Midwest has been a little behind in the movement, but the advantage of that is we've been able to learn from their mistakes and make it better."
Currently the service is only available to Central Illinois adults, but Suchomski said the next step will be adding select pediatric symptoms to the list, and expanding the service's coverage area beyond Central Illinois is also a possibility.