This week, Tacoma-based Franciscan Health System is introducing Franciscan virtual urgent care, a healthcare service that allows anyone in Franciscan's service area to receive care for a wide range of common conditions 24/7 via phone or video chat on smartphone, tablet or PC.

Franciscan is one of the first hospital systems in the U.S. to provide virtual urgent care to the public. The virtual urgent care has the potential to serve thousand of patients in the South Puget Sound area.

“We tested the Franciscan virtual urgent care with our own employees before expanding it to the public, so we know this model of care delivery works,” said Franciscan Health System chief operating officer Cliff Robertson. “As our health care system evolves, patients have more control over their health care dollars. We are innovating to provide care more efficiently, conveniently and at a lower cost. Franciscan virtual urgent care gives patients more choices for how and when they access their medical care.”

For the last four years, Franciscan has partnered with Seattle-based Carena to provide virtual urgent care to Franciscan employees as part of their health benefits package.

In July 2012, Franciscan expanded the service to provide after-hours care to patients of its primary care clinics.

Now, Franciscan is again partnering with Carena to roll out virtual urgent care to the public. 

Patients using virtual urgent care will have access to board-certified doctors and nurse practitioners for after-hours medical diagnosis, treatment planning and prescriptions, if appropriate.

Since virtual urgent care is not yet covered by insurance, Franciscan is keeping the price low — $35 per visit — so that the service is affordable and accessible to the public as part of its mission to create healthier communities.