Virtual visits with caregivers, free COVID screenings give consumers access to safe, exceptional and affordable care

By SSM Health

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, SSM Health leaders saw a need for the residents of its community to gain access to answers about their own coronavirus exposure.

Although “virtual visits” (video appointment with a clinician) had been around since February 2019 at a flat fee of $25, the need to bring a reassuring and healing presence to its neighbors convinced SSM Health leaders to offer free online screenings for COVID-19.

“This is truly a mission-driven strategy,” said Erin Powell, SSM Health System Director of Retail and Virtual Health. “It’s first and foremost to provide free care during a very scary time.”

The need hasn’t abated, as leaders like Chief Community Health Officer Alex Garza, MD, continue to urge the public to wear masks when not in their homes and to continue social distancing. To date, SSM Health has provided, at no charge, 154,087 online screenings for COVID-19 to its neighbors across the U.S.

“We are motivated as an organization to provide care to all, including those who are less fortunate,” Powell said. “This absolutely supports the mission of SSM Health, to provide that service at no cost to the patient.”

Yet the convergence of the virus and SSM Health’s abilities to connect patients to clinicians via telehealth provided an unexpected development: Community residents appreciate the online appointments not only for their accuracy but also for the convenience.

“Consumers want to decide how, when and where they will receive care, and that is evolving. One of the focuses that SSM Health is dedicated to is access and convenience of care,” Powell said.

“If you’re a mom with three kids who thinks she may have a urinary tract infection, the last thing you want to do is pack the kids in the car and drive across town for an appointment. We want to make it easy for you.”

When the founding Sisters of SSM Health arrived in the U.S. in 1872, the world of telehealth visits and online screenings might have seemed like something out of a futuristic novel. Yet Powell points out that the new services are very much in keeping with the Mission upon which SSM Health’s hospitals and clinics were begun.

“The cornerstones of SSM Health’s ministry are access to exceptional health care and making that care affordable to all who need it,” she said. “Having services like these to provide affordable and safe care for our patients is priceless.”

SSM Health patients have access to the care they need, even when they can’t make it to the doctor’s office. Telehealth appointments connect patients with providers from the safety and convenience of their own home. During these appointments, providers connect with patients through video chat or, if necessary, a phone call to diagnose, treat, educate and prescribe appropriate medications. A telehealth visit is a great option for a variety of conditions and some types of follow-up visits.