In the move to keep the only mildly ill out of hospitals and thus avoid undue strain on medical resources while preventing the spread of coronavirus, much has been made of the efficacies of telemedicine.
Such can be as simple as the time-honored call to your family physician back home. Absent a primary provider, newer, relatively low-cost services that operate nationally are designed to make medical advice accessible around the clock.
Some, as Overdrive‘s Matt Cole detailed in a 2018 feature, have geared up in recent years specifically designed to meet the needs of always-mobile owner-operators and drivers.
Add to those a new service, detailed in a recent announcement by the UrgentCareTravel network of truck-stop-based clinics. Its telemedical service is designed specifically with the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in mind.
The new Driver Coronavirus Evaluation Service will make the initial evaluation via video conference with team members at the nearest clinic location. (Find all clinic locations, phone numbers and hours of operation.) By doing so, UCT offers not just convenience but also hopes to protect the well-being of truckers accessing their clinic sites and individuals working at the Pilot and Flying J truck stops where UCT clinics are housed by minimizing the number of people in the clinic and in surrounding areas at any one time.
“We’re trying to make it as easy as possible and as cost-friendly as possible,” UCT Senior Vice President Mitch Strobin said. They’re offering the evaluation for a onetime $40 charge. Drivers who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 — most prominently a fever that rises over time and a dry cough — and looking for evaluation on whether they should get tested can call the UCT clinic nearest to them and “we can can work to get you set up to have the evaluation.”
Other avenues for advice exist, too, of course, including a call to your trusted health care provider back home — that’s recommended for those who have such a provider rather than assuming any local hospital or clinic is prepared for testing.
Many clinics frequented by truckers on the road can be expected to remain open, by and large, some with new screening procedures and limitations on the number of people in the office.
“We’re screening at the door,” said Dr. Alex Underwood, who runs the KT Health Clinic, a mile from I-44’s Exit 80 near Springfield, Missouri. Patients there are being limited to five at a time. Truckers who call in, as well as anybody who shows up with concerns they have the virus, are referred to the local hospital’s phone number or phone app for instructions on how to get local testing.
Since most truckers are not local, they are also referred to the Centers for Disease Control website, cdc.gov, for other resources regarding symptoms, testing and other questions about the pandemic.
The National Association of Independent Truckers’ smartphone app, free of charge to those who are members (membership is $11 monthly), newly features a telemedicine service, said Jason Sheets, NAIT senior vice president. Among NAIT’s 15,000-plus members, he added, “a lot yet don’t know” the service is available. In the NAIT app, it’s accessed by the “’24/7 Doctor’ button, which is tied through a subscription NAIT has with a national [telehealth] provider.”
Based on your location when you tap the button, the service will pair you “with a doctor licensed in that area,” Sheets said. Obviously, “they can’t take temperature over the phone but they can give advice based on symptoms over the video chat. Once that takes place, the doc is also able to send prescriptions, if need be,” for common afflictions.
At this point, of course, when it comes to COVID-19, professional advice on whether it makes sense to get tested is the best you will get from the system, in addition to addressing more common medical needs.
Sheets advised that members newly downloading the app will need to give it 24 hours before the 24/7 Doctor function activates. “The big push for telemedicine,” Sheets said, is to keep people who don’t need to be there out of docs’ offices. “The fewer people we have on the streets, the less we have a chance of spreading this – and the fewer in health facilities, that’s less stress on gowns and goggles and everything” those providers need. “I want the word out to our current members that this is available.”
Should COVID-19 testing be advised by a doc, various test sites are active in locales all around the nation. At once, trucker Bob Stanton, cofounder of the Truckers for a Cause sleep apnea support group and a tireless advocate for truckers’ accessibility to medical services on the road, has found very few indeed around the nation accessible by big truck. Excepting those UrgentCareTravel sites as they come online with the ability to test.
“We are working to upfit our clinics with test kits and the personal protective equipment” necessary, said Strobin. “It’s a challenge for a lot of places, not just us. If your conditions, based on the CDC guidelines, don’t warrant a test, you could be looking at a self-quarantine situation. If you suspect that you have it, act like you do” to protect those you may come into contact with.
Strobin wanted to add that he’s heard of some clinics closing, but UCT sites would remain open for essential services, whether related to COVID or not. “We have DOT physicals, chronic condition service,” he said. “Drivers are essential people delivering the goods – we’re one of the few entities that really focus on the population.”