By Kristina Rex

WORCESTER (CBS) – While many are staying at home and practicing social distancing at the guidance of CDC and government officials during the coronavirus pandemic, some employees – like first responders and medical professionals – have to continue working.

One private practice healthcare office in Worcester believes it has found the right way to treat patients while minimizing interaction.

Vernon Integrative Medical Group in Worcester is “seeing” patients by phone and video chat for the foreseeable future, to minimize physical interaction and therefore contribute to flattening the curve, a term that describes stopping to spread of COVID-19.

The office began the practice on Monday and doctors say while some patients were frustrated, most were grateful they still had a way to connect with their doctor.

“You can see the eyes of the patient, how he talks, his mental status,” explained Dr. Jon Trister, the lead physician. “And sometimes that’s enough to make a decision about severity of the problems.”

Virtual appointment at Vernon Integrative Medical Group in Worcester (WBZ-TV)

Trister said he and other professionals can see and hear a patient’s symptoms and diagnose, prescribe medicine, or send them to urgent care if necessary.

“We would like to protect our staff and their family as well from possible diseases, so this is very important to us,” Trister explained.

Trister says he’s “very worried” about the spread of the virus. On Monday, Massachusetts had 197 cases of COVID-19.

He and others at the practice hope that by continuing to see patients in a virtual setting, they can eliminate the number of people who go to emergency rooms unnecessarily. ER doctors and nurses “are on the front lines and they’re too busy to deal with those routine things that we can handle in the electronic method,” Dr. Diana Trister explained.

Hospitals in Massachusetts are starting the practice of “drive through” Coronavirus testing in tents outside the hospitals. Healthcare professionals tell WBZ they’re worried about running out of personal protective equipment and beds for those who truly need them. “We need to make our acute care beds available only for people who are acutely ill,” said Judy Pare of the Massachusetts Nursing Association.

Dr. Trister and his team hope other private practices follow their lead, and believe seeing patients “virtually” for non serious illnesses is the safest way to move forward.

Kristina Rex

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