INTERACTIVE MAP: Flu hits South Carolina hard, says Department of Health

BEAUFORT, SC (WTOC) - According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, 15 people have died from the flu so far this season. That's double the amount of deaths from last year at this time.

Hospitals in the Lowcountry are taking new and old precautions as we hit the peak of flu season.

"Nationally and statewide, we're seeing twice the number and twice the deaths now. Luckily, we haven't had any deaths here at Beaufort Memorial Hospital," said Dr. Kurt Gambla, Beaufort Memorial, Chief Medical Officer.

However, that doesn't mean that they're not seeing a surge. Beaufort Memorial says they're seeing 50 cases of the flu a week, just like other parts of South Carolina. Patients are wondering why this is such a deadly flu season.

"It's difficult to get the flu immunization exactly right. It's somewhat like predicting the weather, and the best we usually hope to get is somewhere around 60 percent," Dr. Gambla said. "This year, we're probably about 10 to 30 percent."

Beaufort Memorial decided that they needed to take an extra step to combat the flu season by creating the virtual doctor visit app, 'BMH Care Anywhere,' to the public on Friday.

"You are sharing with them your problems, your allergies, your immunizations, your social history. You're sharing everything as if you're right in front of the provider, so it truly is a doctor's visit," said Shauna Bishop, Digital Health Innovation.

We sat down to learn more about how it works, It's pretty simple and quick. You download the app, answer a few questions, and it immediately pairs you with an available doctor for a Facetime call.

Erin woke up Tuesday morning feeling under the weather and turned to the app for a quick fix.

"You know, 15 minutes total to wait and see and download, and then an additional five to pick up the prescription. So much easier as opposed to waiting I don't even know how long at an Urgent Care," said patient, Erin Jones.

Doctors can call in the prescriptions for you and you don't even have to leave your couch. The virtual visit costs $59.

"I thought that the provider, he was very engaged even though he was far away essentially, so you still kind of get that median between you guys; that personable aspect," Jones said.

"Now, the feedback has been very positive. All the providers have gotten five stars and from a technological perspective, it's worked seamlessly," Bishop said. "One of the things we'll be doing in the future is integrating insurance."

Health care professionals say it's helping by lowering the spread of germs.

"The people who are not sick and in a doctor's office, they don't have the flu. They will not be exposed to that elderly person who has the flu, because we've kept them in their own home," said Ellen Bolch, The Healthcare Agency, CEO.

The hospital hopes these virtual visits will help combat this deadly flu season, but as early as Wednesday, we'll have updated numbers on the flu impact from the State Health Department.