Telemedicine could offer relief to overburdened Albany County hospitals

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Telemedicine could soon offer relief local emergency rooms desperately need.

Hospitals in the Capital Region have had to divert patients periodically over the past few weeks because of a lack of staff.

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple announced Tuesday his office is teaming up with Troy-based UCM Digital Health to solve the issue with virtual house calls. He said the new service would be especially helpful to the hilltowns, where patients may hesitate to make the trip to a hospital in a city.

The goal is to avoid or expedite a wait at the hospital.

“This is critical timing for us because the crisis shortage in these hospitals and the diverting of ambulances. We’re running out of places to go,” Apple said.

The partnership means when someone calls 911, EMS workers still show up. Now, EMS workers will be able to connect to a doctor over their phone or tablet, if they decide it’s right for the patient.

Instead of waiting hours in the emergency room, and tying up EMS workers, patients get 24/7 access to a doctor. UCM says the average visit time is 12 minutes and 80% of people end up getting the care they need from home.

UCM makes a treatment plan with the patient and can prescribe medication or simple treatments, then follow up with them and their doctors after the fact.

“And that’s why I think in this case, telemedicine is the perfect answer and the perfect solution to limiting some of the people that go down and inundate and overuse the emergency rooms,” Apple said. “Now they’ll be able to put a doctor right in front of their face.”

The sheriff says county partnership is at no cost to taxpayers. UCM takes insurance and if a patient doesn’t have insurance, they will work with them.