UPMC AnywhereCare app. Photo by Amanda Waltz.

Anyone who’s ever endured a chest cold, allergy attack or other non-serious illness knows that the hassle of scheduling a doctor’s appointment only adds to the short-term misery. Even a visit to an urgent care facility can mean finding parking, long wait times and other inconveniences. Now you can stay home and virtually connect with healthcare professionals through UPMC AnywhereCare.

UPMC Health Plan officially launched AnywhereCare, a free app that allows patients with non-emergency symptoms, including sore throats, upper respiratory illnesses and back pain, to access care from emergency room professionals 24 hours a day. Created with the telehealth company, American Well, the service uses the camera function on smartphones, computers and other devices to provide users with a secure, Facetime-like meeting with a doctor or nurse, who can then make a diagnosis, recommend a treatment or write out a prescription.

The app is available to all patients within Pennsylvania, regardless of whether they are UPMC Health Plan members. AnywhereCare virtual visits cost between $10 and $49, depending on insurance coverage.

Natasa Sokolovich, executive director of telemedicine at UPMC, says AnywhereCare allows them to offer the same level of on-demand consumer engagement as retail spaces.

“It’s allowing [UPMC] to achieve our goals of expanding access to high-quality care,” says Sokolovich.

She adds that it especially helps patients living in rural areas, who often have to miss work in order to travel to and from the nearest hospital.

It also benefits patients overall by promising short wait timesone statement claims calls last an average of six minutesand lower co-pays. Using the app also means fewer visits to emergency rooms and urgent care facilities, so medical professionals are free to treat patients with more serious or chronic conditions.

In the four months since AnywhereCare’s initial launch, Kim Jacobs, vice president of consumer innovation at UPMC Health Plan, says the app has garnered 9,000 users and has hosted 2,200 calls. He also claims that nearly 90 percent of patient issues are resolved during the virtual visits and do not require follow-up care.

The AnywhereCare app is now available to download for free from the Apple or Google Play stores. A desktop version is also available.

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.