By Elizabeth Gardner, for U.S. News
You discover a weird rash on the weekend, which prompts the inevitable question. Should you go to the emergency room to get it checked, or wait for the doctor to squeeze you in on Monday? HealthPartners, an integrated health delivery system in Minneapolis, has a better idea: E-visits. Its service, called virtuwell, has interactive diagnostic questionnaires online (depending on initial answers, subsequent questions may change) for about 40 different conditions with clear treatment protocols.
Nurse practitioners stand by 24/7 to review the questionnaires as well as uploaded photos of any skin lesions or other visible symptoms, give advice, and, if necessary, send a prescription to a pharmacy. The questionnaires automatically flag anything potentially serious. For example, if bladder infection symptoms have gone on for more than a week, virtuwell will end the interview and give the patient a list of options for care in person, usually a clinic. The E-visits cost patients $ 40 or less, compared with $ 100 and up for a trip to a doctor’s office or to the ER; as with regular office visits, insurance may cover some of the cost. Amy Wood, a 29-year-old working mother of one daughter from Cottage Grove, Minn., has used virtuwell several times for treating her chronic sinus infections. “This service has saved me so much time driving all the way to the doctor just for her to confirm what I already know I have,” she says.