Northwell Health Launches ER on Demand, Virtual Emergency Care

Northwell Health today launched its “ER on Demand” program, allowing people to get help from an emergency physician in the middle of the night—without leaving their home.

The new telehealth program operates from 8p.m. to 8a.m. every night and provides easy access to a board-certified emergency medicine physician when it’s too late to visit urgent care or a doctor’s office. Each call is answered by a certified paramedic, who determines the level of care that’s required and makes sure that an ambulance is not needed. Then, within an hour or less, the patient is connected to an emergency medicine physician via video chat on a smartphone, tablet or computer.

The telehealth visit can have several outcomes, depending on the patient’s condition. If necessary, the doctor will advise the patient to go to the nearest emergency department (ED) and can help arrange an ambulance; if the patient goes to a Northwell ED, the doctor will call ahead to alert the emergency department staff. In other cases, the telehealth physician will evaluate the caller’s symptoms and advise next steps, such as a follow-up visit with a primary care doctor or specialist, and/or lab tests or imaging. The telehealth doctor can also write a prescription for medication and may be able to arrange for home delivery. Prescription home delivery services are currently available in Manhattan, Queens and Nassau County. A telehealth team member will call the patient the next day to confirm that his or her condition is improving and answer questions.

Software engineer Margaret Huang, 39, used the ER on Demand program during its pilot phase, late one night when her asthma was acting up. “There were no urgent cares open around me and I just couldn’t stop coughing,” she said. “I usually calm down in a few minutes but I was still coughing after more than 30 minutes and I was getting worried already.” Ms. Huang ended up speaking with an emergency physician within a half-hour—fast enough that she was able to get to a nearby pharmacy for an inhaler before it closed. “It was great to get an answer in the comfort of my own home.”

A unique aspect of Northwell’s virtual emergency service is that patients always speak with a board-certified emergency medicine physician, not a general practitioner or internist, said Jonathan Berkowitz, MD, medical director of emergency medical services at Northwell Health. The virtual visit is designed to be affordable, as well as convenient, he said. Patients are charged for an outpatient ambulatory visit, which is typically a third to a fifth as much as for an emergency department visit. Copays are significantly less, as well. (All types of insurance are accepted.) If the patient is directed to an ED and seen at a Northwell facility, the charge for the virtual visit is waived. “Our aim is to help patients get the right level of care as easily and affordably as possible,” Dr. Berkowitz said.

The new service is available throughout New York State and can be accessed by calling (833) 556-6784 or (833) 55-NORTH, or by opening the Northwell Health app and scheduling through the ER on Demand tile. “We want to meet you where you are. It should be easy for you to get care no matter what time it is,” said Sarah Healey Herod, senior director of operations for Northwell’s emergency medicine service line. “If you’re not feeling well, you don’t have to get your kids in the car and drive to the emergency room when its late—our doctors can help you figure out what you need to do within an hour of your call, while you still have your pajamas on.”

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