By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
Thousands of Georgians worried they may have coronavirus are using a new virtual screening tool created by Augusta University that connects patients with volunteer doctors via live video chats.
The screening app, launched earlier this month, allows people across Georgia who display symptoms of COVID-19 to receive a physician’s recommendation to seek in-person testing at one of about two dozen drive-up testing sites the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) set up in recent days.
So far, more than 1,100 people have been referred for in-person testing after talking with a physician via the app's video feature, according to Augusta University Health. Those referrals resulted from more than 3,000 screenings conducted over the app as of Tuesday morning.
For more information and to download the virtual screening app, visit Augusta University Health's website at https://www.augustahealth.org/expresscare/covid-19-virtual-screening.
Accessible 24-hours a day, the app allows anyone with an internet connection to speak face-to-face with a doctor in real time over a mobile smartphone or computer. The doctor can then, if warranted, refer the patient to a drive-up site for testing.
If nothing else, the easy-to-use app aims to help people gain more information on coronavirus and provide peace of mind if they are worried about whether or not they have symptoms, said Dr. Matthew Lyon, an emergency medicine physician at Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia who helped create the app.
“People have many questions and want to get their fears resolved,” Lyon said Tuesday. “This allows them to actually talk to somebody and ask those questions.”
Around 400 licensed medical providers have signed up to work in shifts for the virtual app, Lyon said. If someone using the app shows potentially positive COVID-19 symptoms, that person’s information will be sent automatically to the DPH so the person can then be scheduled for in-person testing at the closest drive-up site.
Symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath. People 60 years of age and older and those with chronic health issues are particularly vulnerable to adverse health effects from the virus.
State health officials and hospital representatives have stressed people should not show up at hospitals unannounced to seek testing for the respiratory virus. Impromptu visits add more strain to hospitals already running low on protective gear, supplies for testing kits and intensive-care beds.
The app should help reduce some of the burden on hospitals and primary care providers - especially in rural areas - by keeping people who do not have symptoms away from unnecessary testing, Lyon said.
People who may not have immediate access to a nearby physician can use the app instead to get a sense of whether they may need to receive testing. Additionally, screening more people before they arrive at hospitals in rural areas should help ease the burden for facilities like Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, where more than 1,000 people were still awaiting the results of their COVID-19 tests as of noon Tuesday.
“This is a way for patients, no matter if they’re in rural or urban areas, to have the exact same kind of care,” Lyon said. “It’s just another resource that gives them a chance.”