By Cheryl Powell
Beacon Journal medical writer
University Hospitals is giving a face to the voice that sets up your medical tests or specialist appointments.
The Cleveland-based health system recently launched a Virtual Concierge program inside two of its primary-care offices in Bath and Streetsboro.
Patients at Ghent Family Practice and Portage Family Medicine who need follow-up tests or visits with a specialist can go to a video conferencing area of the office, where they talk face-to-face with a scheduler (think Skype).
After setting up the appointments, the scheduler can send the patient a confirmation, any special instructions and maps with directions via a printer located at the Virtual Concierge station.
Since the program launched over the summer on a pilot basis, the Virtual Concierge has scheduled more than 450 appointments, said Maria Kamenos, vice president of Patient Access Services for University Hospitals.
The health system plans to roll out the Virtual Concierge program at 33 of its primary-care offices throughout Northeast Ohio, Kamenos said.
Practice staff often are busy with other responsibilities, leaving the patient to take home a phone number and call later for an appointment.
“We have a strategy to ensure all patients — no matter where they’re seen — have a means to make any follow-up appointments they may need before they leave,” Kamenos said.
The idea grew out of a discussion during a University Hospitals Leadership Academy, which brings together emerging leaders from throughout the health system for training and skill development.
“It’s that concierge level of service, where the concierge will make your reservation for you,” said Dr. Todd M. Zeiger, a family medicine physician in the UH Sharon Health Center who was in the group that came up with the idea.
University Hospitals also has been placing in-person concierge staff at larger health centers throughout the region, including the location in Twinsburg, to help patients schedule follow-up services.
Though it wouldn’t be cost-effective to have an in-person concierge at every medical practice in the system, the technology exists to connect patients with an appointment scheduler through secure video conferencing.
“We feel that’s so important to have that personal touch, to have a person working with you rather than a voice over the phone,” Zeiger said. “That person is face-to-face with that patient, helping them with the appointments they need.”
The practices adopting the Virtual Concierge program typically have about 400 to 500 referrals for follow-up care each month, Kamenos said.
Kamenos declined to say how much the health system is investing in the Virtual Concierge program. However, she said, the program should pay for itself by encouraging patients to seek care within the UH system.
“It’s really more about continuity of care and ensuring people are receiving the best quality of care,” she said.
Anthem house calls
Anthem recently launched a voluntary House Call Program for people enrolled in the insurer’s Medicare Advantage managed-care plans in Ohio.
Through the free program, people enrolled in Anthem’s Medicare managed-care plans can have a free health evaluation in their home by a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant. Results are shared with the patient’s designated primary-care physician.
Anthem contracts with five companies to provide the in-home visits, spokeswoman Kim Ashley said in an email. MedXM is providing the service for Summit County residents.
According to Anthem, participation in the program is completely voluntary and won’t affect benefits, co-pays or premiums.
The goal of the program is to reduce costs and maintain healthier enrollees, Ashley said. The program also aims to “generate appropriate care-management referrals and follow-up appointments, particularly for those with chronic disease.”
The ALS Association Northern Ohio Chapter is hosting its Walk to Defeat ALS on Sunday at Lock 3 in downtown Akron.
Money raised during the event will benefit patient support services and research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurodegenerative disease that’s often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
Check-in for the 2.5-mile walk begins at 8:30 a.m.
For more information or to register, visit www.alsa.org.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.