Coronavirus: Dignity Health offering free virtual medical visits to screen for COVID-19

With so many people flocking to hospitals and medical buildings amid the coronavirus pandemic, one large Southern California Hospital chain is launching a new way to see more patients without cramming waiting rooms -- and it's free.

Dignity Health hospitals from Northridge to San Bernardino are dealing with an onslaught of worried patients concerned they have COVID-19.

"There's a lot of anxiety in our community," said Divisional Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nicholas Testa. He said his local hospitals are offering free virtual urgent care visits for parents who are worried they may have caught this dreaded virus.

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"The symptoms classically have been fever and shortness of breath and a lot of other symptoms much like a common cold," he said. "We can't confirm it without a lab test, but right now we're only doing lab tests in patients who meet certain criteria."

While they can't test, healthcare professionals can tell you whether you need to seek medical care or stay put at home. The demand for help is growing since people are still getting the flu and more are now dealing with seasonal allergies.

"Even though there are all these other diagnoses out there, the management for all of them as long as your symptoms are controllable are to stay at home and self-isolate," Testa said.

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To use the service, people can visit the Dignity Health website or download Virtual Care Anywhere from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store. If you don't have a way to do that, you can call them at 855-356-8053 and providers are waiving their usual $35 fee.

"If you're calling in or accessing strictly for concerns around COVID-19-like symptoms, we have a code which is 'Covid19' which gets you one free visit," Testa said.

The wait times vary from a few minutes to an hour.

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The coronavirus has several similarities to the flu, but there are also key differences.

"People would much rather wait at home for 30 minutes for a provider that they can see virtually than have to get in their car and drive to the emergency department and sit in a waiting room for potentially longer than that," he said.

Being able to get checked virtually will help you get medical advice without exposing yourself or healthcare workers.
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