HealthPartners of Minnesota: Online clinics can reduce costs, improve outcomes and experience

Online healthcare delivery is yielding financial and clinical benefits--signaling a need for regulatory reform that allows for expansion and innovation in the field, according to a study in Health Affairs.

HealthPartners of Minnesota's online clinic, Virtuwell, has reduced costs by an average of $88 per episode compared with traditional care, has improved clinical effectiveness and has a 98 percent "would recommend" rating from customers, according to the authors.

These findings convinced HealthPartners that regulatory reforms--such as state statutes that require clinicians be located in the same state as the patient and those requiring clinicians to have had a previous face-to-face visit with a patient--would lead to further costs savings and increased access.

The Virtuwell site offers treatment for about forty conditions, including urinary tract infections, sinus infections and conjunctivitis. Using algorithms, the program makes patient and clinician phone interactions available 24/7 and uses nurse practitioners or physician assistants to provide diagnoses, treatment plans, and prescriptions.

Online exchanges are speeding up the care process with flu vaccine matching sites, and it's been found before that the less barriers and more patience, the more easily and widely telehealth will be adopted. A Commonwealth Fund brief on telehealth studied three healthcare systems and concluded that timely and interactive care interventions can help organizations improve both financial performance and clinical outcomes.

To learn more:
- read the abstract of the HealthPartners study
- see the Commonwealth Fund brief

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