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Use of Online Clinic Visits

By March 7, 2013Commentary

As health care costs soared and consumers lives become more hectic, a movement began to create more convenient, and less expensive, methods of treating at least common health conditions.  Thus came into being such phenomenon as the retail and drug store clinic, the on-site workplace clinic and the ability to handle health needs by the phone or internet.  A study in Health Affairs reports on one such effort, the Virtuwell online clinic run by HealthPartners in Minnesota.   (HA Article)   The clinic began in 2010 and a patient uses it by signing in and providing information about symptoms, history, etc.  A nurse practitioner reviews the information and gets back to the patient usually within thirty minutes or less.  In about half the cases the provider may call the patient for more information and eventually will send a treatment plan and can electronically prescribe drugs if needed.  People whose condition cannot be handled completely online are referred for an in-person visit.  Almost 80 of the users are female and most are aged 24 to 45.  The retail cost is $40, and insurance pays for most of the visits.  There were significant cost savings.  Acute sinusitis, for example, cost about $79 less to treat online.  For urinary tract infections, the cost was around $128 less and for all episodes, the cost averaged $88 lower spending.  These treatment episodes are not generally additive; about 90% displace an in-person visit that would otherwise occur.  There are high rates of customer satisfaction with the service.  This kind of innovation appears to offer a real opportunity to reduce the per-unit costs of health care, which is what we desperately need.

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