Anticipating the upheaval that tropical storm Irma would bring to Floridians, Nemours Children’s Health System is using telehealth to provide pediatric care for any patient in the state who needs it.

The multistate pediatric health system has made its telehealth app, Nemours CareConnect, available free to all throughout Florida and southern Georgia until Friday, using the code word “Irma.”

“We served a lot of thankful patients who were able to find care despite the challenges of the hurricane,” said Carey Officer, Nemours administrator of telehealth.

Downloads and usage of the app as the storm hit were up considerably. From Friday to Tuesday, there was a 554 percent increase in people downloading the app. And as many families received care through Nemours CareConnect in that period as the system typically sees in three months, said Josh Wilson, public relations director for the system.

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In addition to children and parents who were uprooted from their homes, were without power, or without the ability to get to a facility, many provider locations have been closed because of the hurricane, Officer said.

“Here in Jacksonville, we’ve experienced historic flooding levels, leaving our clinic, Nemours Children’s Specialty Care, inaccessible,” she said.

If a parent has internet access or cellular coverage, however, Nemours CareConnect offers live, face-to-face pediatric care. Sign-up is available here

CareConnect, which was launched to Nemours patients in 2015, is a 24/7 service that typically makes one pediatrician available. When Irma hit, four pediatricians were working the app, often with four or five callers waiting for advice and reassurance, Officer said.

Nemours tapped into its multistate system network in order to serve the demand generated by the hurricane.

In fact, Officer said, Nemours offered its app and its physician services to Texans in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s hurricane emergency declaration requested the aid of any health care providers who were licensed in good standing in other states, Nemours made its providers licenses available to Texas and sent word that any child in Texas could use Nemours CareConnect. While few Texas patients used the app, which was from an unfamiliar health system and was only announced after the storm, it served as a useful run-up for the Florida storm.

Officer said that Nemours was  prepared to ramp up its telehealth services because the system began looking at doing just that after Hurricane Matthew hit the Southeast almost a year ago.

“Telemedicine is certainly here to stay and becoming simply a part of how we provide care,” she said, so its use in urgent or emergency care during a disaster will become more widespread. In nondisaster settings, the change is more practical, she said.

“The patient’s mental model of how to receive care is shifting, and providers need to be focusing on the patient as a customer, working with patients’ needs to get them the right care at the right place and time,” Officer said.