JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — With COVID-19 spreading across the country and the First Coast, UF Health’s doctors are using telemedicine to make sure they can still see their patients safely.

Doctors at the hospital have used telemedicine before, but because of the virus, virtual appointments have ramped up.

Tracie Rutledge, an advanced registered nurse practitioner at UF Health who spearheaded the telemedicine service says, “our telemedicine visits have increased maybe by 70%, 80%. Almost 100."

UF Health started telemedicine for chronic care patients in 2019. Because of COVID-19, Rutledge anticipates 100% of all primary care patients will be on telemedicine by the end of April. 

Through the clinic, patients are able to see a physician for non-emergency virtual visits.

“We want to be here for them, we want to make sure they have access to care. And immediate access to care,” Rutledge said.

Doctors say using telemedicine isn’t only convenient and safe, but it still allows them to put their patient’s care first, especially in a time of uncertainty.

“We want them to feel comfortable, to feel safe, and to feel as though they can depend that we’re going to be here for them,” Rutledge said.

Virtual visits are essentially the same as visiting the clinic. Patients call the office to schedule an appointment. At the appointment, they check-in online, and the session proceeds like a normal office visit.

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“You’re able to see your actual provider who has taken care of you for years,” Rutledge said. “Patients really love the idea -- they’re scared and they don’t want to come in, they know what social distancing is, they’re trying to comply.”

There are some differences. A doctor won’t be able to look in your ears or hear your lungs. If a patient does need to physically come to the clinic, a doctor or nurse will come see them in their car. The clinics are also set up with social distancing practices in waiting rooms and patient rooms.

Most healthcare providers at UF Health will be using telemedicine until the global health crisis is over. Some say they’ll continue using it for non-emergency visits even after the health crisis ends because it’s convenient for them, and their patients who can’t always physically get to the doctor’s office.

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