When the next heat wave causes power outages or the next round of wildfires prompt evacuations throughout Northern California, chances are the global COVID-19 pandemic will still be unfolding. Under any or all of these conditions, we want to remind patients how and when to seek care, even during displacement or power loss.
First: Make Your Smart Phone Smarter with the My Health Online App.
There is no question that mobile phones have become essential to our lives, and that reality has been underscored during the current emergency. Your phone may already receive alerts, including air quality reports, evacuation announcements or planned power shutoff notices, but is your phone optimized for your personal health needs?
If you haven’t already, we encourage Sutter patients to download the My Health Online smart phone app from the Apple App Store or Google Play. The My Health Online smartphone app helps connect you with your care team – even if you lose power or are displaced – provided you have wireless or mobile internet access and a charged phone battery.
“When we created the My Health Online patient portal we knew we would need a mobile phone option, but I don’t think we realized how important it would be in the context of natural disasters,” said Albert Chan, M.D., chief of digital patient experience at Sutter Health. Within the app you can send a message to your care team, view lab and most test results, securely access health records and schedule and complete a video visit.
“While we previously saw the app as a convenience, we now know that it’s a necessity; in fact we have a dedicated support team at (866) 978-8837 to troubleshoot any issues that patients have activating the app,” said Dr. Chan.
Second: Know that Severe Weather Can Cause Symptoms to Worsen, Quickly.
The smoke from wildfires, the heat in late summer and the stress of evacuation or a power outage can compromise your immune system and put stress on your body. “People who already have heart or lung-related illness, and some who don’t, may need personalized medical care to manage through this period,” said Chan. Video visits can often help doctors determine the severity of symptoms, provide medical advice and guide someone to in-person care as needed; providing reassurance in a very uncertain time.
“Bottom line, if you experience new or worsening symptoms we encourage you to schedule a same-day video visit with your doctor or another provider in the Sutter network – don’t ignore your body’s signals.”
You can also use the “symptom checker” that is integrated into Sutter Health’s website and My Health Online patient portal. Originally launched in February 2019, the self-led symptom checker is a kind of online survey that helps patients decide whether to engage in self-care or to seek care, if they need an in-person appointment or a video visit, and if they need to be seen now or soon.
As always, call 911 or go directly to the nearest hospital emergency department if you are experiencing chest pain or having difficulty breathing.
Third: Don’t Let an Evacuation Erode Your Health.
“Often, when people are ordered to evacuate they are in such a great rush that they leave medications, medical equipment, or medical instructions behind,” said Chan. “We recommend preparing a ‘go bag’ for each member of the family with medications and any needed medical supplies, just in case.”
But if you have to evacuate without medications, remember an often- overlooked value of video visits is their role in enabling physicians to authorize new prescriptions or call in short-term refills of existing medications to pharmacies near a patient’s temporary relocation spot. “We will do everything in our power to assist with your medication or medical device needs, so please remember to reach out as soon as you are somewhere safe.”