Anyone who’s ever had a time-sensitive or unexpected health need knows quick access to care can be challenging. It’s especially true during winter, when respiratory illnesses are on the rise, more people are seeking care, and there are long waits in emergency departments and urgent care locations.
Mass General Brigham now offers several convenient ways to access care virtually for many health conditions that require timely care, but aren’t health emergencies. These virtual options can save patients a trip to urgent care or an emergency department.
What should you do if you have an urgent health need that’s not an emergency? Your primary care provider is a good place to start. Your doctor's office can recommend next steps. Please call your primary care provider's office for urgent issues.Many Mass General Brigham primary care practices for adults and children offer same-day, in-person and virtual visits.
Mass General Brigham Virtual Urgent Care is also an option for care. It’s open to all patients ages 3 and up, even if they haven’t seen a Mass General Brigham provider before. Patients may use both on-demand and scheduled appointments. Patients who are new to Mass General Brigham may access on-demand care without an appointment. Existing patients may access Virtual Urgent Care through the Patient Gateway platform. This integration ensures continuity of care with your existing care team. Learn more about Virtual Urgent Care options.
“Say your child gets pink eye at day care. With a virtual visit, instead of trying to rearrange your day and get them seen in the office, you could have them on your lap at home, the provider can evaluate the patient and determine the appropriate treatment right then and there. For a lot of our patients, it’s more convenient to do certain things at home,” says Alexei Wagner, MD, MBA, an emergency medicine doctor and medical director for virtual care at Mass General Brigham Integrated Care.
Virtual Urgent Care is available for patients in Massachusetts and New Hampshire who have time-sensitive health conditions that aren’t life-threatening.
“Emergency departments are designed to take care of acutely ill, complex patients, and the wait times can be very long for people with more minor complaints,” Dr. Wagner says. “At Mass General Brigham we have the unique ability to see patients virtually and then send them in for lab or x-ray tests at one of our urgent care sites. This creates efficiency for both the patient and health system.”
Patients can register for care on demand to be seen as soon as possible, or they can schedule a virtual appointment for a specific time slot later that day through their Patient Gateway account. Either option provides the same level of care, Dr. Wagner confirms. “Some people prefer scheduled visits where they know they’re seeing a provider at a designated time. Others want to be seen right away and get to the pharmacy if they need to. Either way, it’s the convenience factor.”
Virtual Urgent Care providers receive specialized training for examining patients virtually. “For example, if a virtual patient comes in with shoulder pain, our providers learn how to instruct the patient to do the physical exam that we would typically perform in the office. Can they touch their other shoulder? How does it feel when they push on their collar bone? It works really well for certain conditions,” Dr. Wagner says.
Improvements in video technology have also expanded the scope of care for complaints like skin conditions. “The video quality is good enough that we can usually see rashes pretty well, improving diagnoses,” says Dr. Wagner.
“Most minor illness and injuries can be managed virtually, as long as it doesn’t require a complex physical exam or testing,” says Dr. Wagner.
Virtual urgent care is a great option for milder but acute conditions like minor injuries, pink eye, respiratory or sinus infections, and urinary tract infections. View a full list of conditions that can be treated through Virtual Urgent Care.
“The nice thing about our platform is that if there’s ever any question about further follow-up or if patients need additional testing, like x-rays or lab exams, we’ll send them to one of our urgent care centers,” Dr. Wagner explains. For medical emergencies, patients should call 911.
Based on regulations, virtual providers don’t prescribe certain controlled medications like narcotics, sleeping pills, or antidepressants. “Our providers use evidence-based medicine and clinical guidelines to determine if medications are needed. If a prescription is appropriate for the patient, like antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, asthma medication, or steroids, we can prescribe them very easily,” says Dr. Wagner. “And it’s all integrated within your existing medical records, so if we prescribe a medication, your other doctors will see it and it will be on your medication list.”
Because Virtual Urgent Care is part of the larger Mass General Brigham network, patients benefit from the continuity of coordinated care.
“Your virtual providers can pull up your medical records, your history, your medications, see your last visits to the doctor, and assess whether this is a new urgent complaint or an episode of an existing chronic disease. Knowing more about the patient allows us better decision and diagnostic ability,” says Dr. Wagner.
“Another amazing benefit to our integrated virtual care platform is we can provide referrals into the Mass General Brigham system. We communicate with your primary care provider, order referrals like same-day sports medicine specialists, you name it. The notes from your virtual urgent care visit will be in your record, and any specialists will be able to see what brought the patient to them. Everything is seamless.”