Telemedicine consults save money, time: two-year study

A two-year (2010-12) study published in Health Affairs of 40,000 online consults via Minnesota-based integrated delivery system/insurer HealthPartners found that they reduced billing by an average of $88.03 per case (average cost: $40) and saved about 2.5 hours per patient. Patients were seen through the system’s 24/7 Virtuwell online clinic for 40 different primary care conditions, with the three most frequent being sinusitis, urinary tract infections and conjunctivitis. However, Virtuwell does not use video practitioner-patient consults, instead walking patients through an online automated interview about symptoms, medical history, allergies and medications. Then a nurse practitioner reviews each patient’s information and sends a treatment plan in a secure message, a process taking about 30 minutes. A phone call with the nurse is optional. Other results: no real increase in visits, and an episode resolution (no face-to-face visit) rate equivalent to ‘minute clinics’ at 89% to 95%. This sounds like an attractive template and option for concierge medicine, IPAs, ACOs and insurers, but needs to work around cross-state regulations. Neil Versel in Information Week, iHealthBeat, link to study abstract (Health Affairs)

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