From the consumer’s point of view, the online clinic Virtuwell has a number of things going for it. Open around the clock, for $40 a patient can go online, answer a series of questions, and receive a diagnosis and treatment plan, including prescriptions as needed, for simple medical conditions. As a business model, it’s helping the Minneapolis–based HealthPartners keep patients with minor complaints out of its busy clinics, and build loyalty and boost more profitable in-person business by driving patients who need advanced care to physician offices.
The virtual clinic was a natural outcome of the EHR technology the organization has been using for the past 10 years, says Kevin Palattao, vice president of patient care systems at HealthPartners, an integrated system that includes a health plan, several clinics, and three hospitals. The organization’s first foray into online care was in 2005, when it began releasing test results to providers and patients simultaneously.
Patients “absolutely loved” getting their test results quickly, he says. Soon after, the organization began experimenting with e-visits conducted via e-mail between primary care physicians and their patients.
“Our customers tell us they want quality healthcare that’s simple, friendly, convenient, and affordable,” says Mary Brainerd, HealthPartners president and CEO. “Our commitment is to find innovative ways to meet those needs.”
HealthPartners’ latest venture is Virtuwell.com, which connects nurse practitioners and patients online—24/7 and without appointments. Nurse practitioners will diagnose and provide treatment recommendations and prescriptions for minor conditions such as colds, coughs, allergies, sinusitis, ear pain, pink eye, minor skin conditions, and yeast and urinary tract infections. Patients with follow-up questions can call a help line at no extra charge.