Online Clinics Work – Government Is the Problem

HealthPartners in Minnesota launched an online clinic called virtuwell in late 2010. After more than 40,000 cases, we report an average $88 lower cost per episode compared with care received in traditional settings, strong indicators of clinical effectiveness, and a 98 percent “would recommend” rating from customers. The possibility of extrapolating such savings to larger volumes of cases is compelling. We suggest a need for regulatory reform, particularly around state-level statutes that create barriers to the expansion of online care delivery, such as those that require clinicians to 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.

Health Affairs study.

Comments (7)

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  1. Evan Carr says:

    I think this article highlights what will ultimately reform health care in this country: innovation. Concerns about the quality of care received through the internet are certainly valid but many kinks will work themselves out in time. If I’m not mistaken, I believe one of the challenges with a service like this is reimbursement from insurance companies. Removing the barriers mentioned in the article would be a great first step in opening up health care to this new delivery method as long as there is a strong quality assurance component.

  2. Sadat says:

    Yes, many health insurance companies do not reimburse online or over the phone appointments. Health care continues to be a lagging industry when it comes to adopting information technology effectively, one that cuts down on costs and makes the whole exchange more efficient. I still remember from the clinic at my past college where the nurses keep record of my status through written papers, and if a small clinic has a traffic of 200 students a day, that adds up to a lot of paper. How do they keep track, and the records they keep are probably all in paper forms that cluttered and taking up unnecessary space. Electronic methods of keep and studying records is a necessary step, and certainly this would support the online clinic initiative.

  3. Angel says:

    As Sadat mentions, our health care system is not just inefficient but also lagging behind with information technology. Perhaps the barriers to innovation mentioned in the article are sturdy barriers to adopting technological elements into the system for the benefit of the patient.

  4. Andrew O says:

    I think it is a no-brainer that bridging technology with health care is more efficient. Everyone knows how incompatible government is with technology…

  5. Angel says:

    I wonder if I will live the day we are trying to prove that robotic medical treatment is better but government intereference is the problem.

  6. Gabriel Odom says:

    The technology here is definitely key: Regions Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in Minnesota and also in HealthPartners, uses their EHR software very well.
    Kaiser is also pushing clinic and self-report strategies in their massive chronic care population.

    “According to the [Chronic Care] model, improvements in support for self-management, design of practices, decision support, clinical information systems, and integration of community resources will foster more productive interactions between patients who are informed participants in their care, and practice teams that are prepared and proactive in providing care.”

  7. Buster says:

    Bureaucratic inertia is partly to blame. Doctors have invested huge sums of money into their clinics have vested interest in maintaining the status quo. They don’t want to be undercut by other doctors, who sit in front of computer screen at a home office.