University Health Services to continue telehealth services, provide some appointments in person

Amanda Figueroa-Nieves

University Health Services will continue offering telehealth services this fall but will also use in-person services to distribute flu vaccinations and hold necessary visits. 

Terrance Hines, chief medical officer and executive director of UHS, said UHS will continue to operate as it has over the summer by mainly using online appointments. However, there will be some on-site presence, including the respiratory clinic for evaluation of possible COVID-19, labs, X-ray and allergy and immunization services. Other services, including women’s health and sports medicine, will be offered in person on an as-needed basis, Hines said. 

Hines said that while some services, such as allergy shots, may be restricted, UHS will continue to provide all the services it would in a regular semester. 

“(Telehealth) has given us the opportunity to … care for students who are not in Austin but are still in Texas and still eligible for our services,” Hines said. “It's been really neat to see how quickly we were able to get these processes in place and move towards doing telehealth, which was something that we had previously talked about but would have taken much longer in the ‘normal world’ to implement.” 

Hines said UHS will still administer flu vaccines and hopes to top the 16,000 vaccines administered last year. UHS will use the Union Ballroom as a location for flu vaccination because it is a large space with high ceilings, which creates a similar environment to the outdoors while allowing for climate control, Hines said.

“We're really highlighting how important it is (to get a flu shot) this year, in particular, because of the presence of COVID-19, and we’re making sure that we're trying to avoid having both infections at the same time,” Hines said.

Hines said it is difficult to predict what the volume of UHS usage will be, as social distancing and masks may result in a decrease of other illnesses, but students with COVID-19 symptoms will likely seek care or advice.

Visits are conducted through a Zoom meeting between the student and provider, who will ask the same questions they would typically ask in an office visit, Hines said. He said the providers are trained to facilitate a modified physical exam through video call. 

Political communications sophomore Journey Sais said she had a positive experience when she used UHS for women’s health services last year. She said having to use telehealth would not change her decision to seek out UHS services. 

“They were really kind… and made me feel really welcome,” Sais said. “I felt really comfortable telling them about my experiences.” 

UHS physician Melinda McMichael said telehealth works well for treating patients with anxiety and depression but not as well for appointments with a physical exam. 

McMichael said telehealth can remove some of the stresses of physically going to an appointment. She said some patients who would not have made an in-person appointment seek out medical attention virtually.

“I have seen a couple of patients who said, ‘I haven't been out of my apartment since March,’ (because) they’re afraid of the virus,” McMichael said. “It gives them an option they wouldn't have had in the past.”