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INNOVATION: $40 buys you a virtuwell online clinic visit

If you live in the upper Midwest and have a sinus infection, you might choose to visit the virtuwell online clinic established by HealthPartners (Minneapolis).  Launched in 2010, this online clinic provides diagnosis and treatment for roughly 40 simple conditions.  It is available 24/7 and starts with you answering questions about symptoms and medical history and medications being taken.  A nurse practitioner then develops a treatment plan (within about a half hour) and can send a prescription order right to your pharmacy of choice.   You can also speak with a nurse.  The visit costs $40, or perhaps less depending on insurance.

The Courneya et al. article is a nice data-rich case study of virtuwell.  There have been 40,000 customers who have fit the virtuwell treatment model and another 56,000 who have been referred to other providers.  Women were found to be more likely to use this service than men; and, young adults, aged 24-45, were the most likely age group to use virtuwell. 

Virtuwell was found to substitute for other types of provider visits rather than increasing patient demand for primary care services.  Fully 90 percent of virtuwell visits were found to displace in-person visits.

Here is the virtuwell website (with a free video describing the service): https://www.virtuwell.com/ 

Source: Courneya, P.T., Palattao, K.J., and Gallagher, J.M.  HealthPartners’ online clinic for simple conditions delivers savings of $88 per episode and high patient approval.  Health Affairs;32(2):385-392, Feb. 2013.  Click here for publisher’s website:  http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/32/2/385.short.  Another short news report about this study can be found by clicking here: http://m.mhealthnews.com/news/study-gives-high-grades-healthpartners-online-clinic  Posted by AHA Resource Center (312) 422-2003, rec@aha.org

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