Credit: Ara Najarian | Courtesy

Tenet Health Central Coast is offering a new phone service called Tele-ER. 

This service is for patients who may not be sure if they need the emergency room and provides them the ability to talk to a board-certified emergency room physician, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to a press release. 

To access this service, patients need a smartphone, tablet or a computer with a functioning camera to call the number (805) 546-7990. The line is equipped to help everyone, including children, according to Michael Keleman, the Chief Strategy Officer of Tenet Health Central Coast.

Patients can utilize this service whether they believe they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or any other medical condition, according to the press release.

“It’s not always guaranteed that you’ll just do the Zoom, sometimes you’re still going to have to come in and see the person,” Keleman said.

Keleman said that so far the calls have been covered by everyone’s insurance and that the program costs a fraction of an ER visit. According to the press release, it typically costs $20 for patients with Medicare, excluding the cost of follow up visits.

Upon calling, the caller is first greeted by a registered nurse who works in the emergency room in either Twin Cities Community Hospital or Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center. After this, the nurse determines what is wrong and if the patient are appropriate for Tele-ER, according to Kelemen. 

Kelemen said that more serious health concerns, such as chest pains, are not appropriate for this service as it is a much more urgent problem that needs immediate attention. If you are experiencing a medical concern such as this, Keleman said to call 911 instead. 

If the patient is deemed appropriate for the Tele-ER service, then the nurse will begin the registration process, Keleman said. The patient will then be sent a text message with a Zoom invite, which is an encrypted, HIPAA compliant version. Zoom sessions will not be recorded. 

The nurse will then check to make sure that the patient has received the text message. After this, the patient will get one more phone call from the patient registration, which ensures that everything is working and they receive the patient’s insurance information, according to Keleman. 

After this interaction, the patient will then have a Zoom session with an ER physician. The physicians have a tablet that they use in the ER to conduct these calls, Keleman said.

The overall visit takes about an hour with the first nurse interaction taking on average five to ten minutes. Then the physician gets to the patient within 30 minutes of the first call. The final interaction on Zoom lasts about ten to fifteen minutes, according to Keleman.

The service was first started due to COVID-19, however, Keleman said that he is trying to make the program a permanent one.

“We are seeing a lot of value in this program, aside from just people being able to call the first point of contact,” Keleman said. “Tt’s much more affordable, much more convenient.” 

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