Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Online Doctor Visits for the Webcam Challenged

As discussed in our last post, someone with a minor health condition can now arrange, at their own volition, webcam consultations with licensed medical practitioners.  More importantly, that online doctor visit will typically yield a personalized treatment plan and, if medically necessary, e-prescriptions to be fulfilled at a local pharmacy.  So what if you could benefit from an online doctor visit but don't have a webcam or you are otherwise webcam challenged?  Fear not, because at least one innovative healthcare company lets you arrange an online doctor visit without a webcam.  

Zipnosis, a healthcare start-up that was recently named an innovation award winner by The Minnesota Heath Action Group, a healthcare purchasers association, can fill the void for you webcam challenged types in need of online doctoring.  Like other online doctor services, Zipnosis hones in on about about two dozen minor health conditions that can be safely diagnosed and treated online.  Among these conditions are colds, influenza, sinusitis, strep throat, allergies, urinary tract infections, yeast infections, cold sores and mild acne.  And as you would expect, the diagnostic question and answer session is at the heart of the process.  While other online doctor service providers push the patient into a webcam consultation for the diagnostic Q&A, Zipnosis handles it through an interactive, online questionnaire using its adaptive software technology.

The diagnostic Q&A is naturally an adaptive data gathering exercise.  You tell your doctor what hurts, she asks a few questions about your ailment, you give some answers, depending on the answers you give she asks more questions.  And so it goes until your doctor has enough information to diagnose your condition and recommend a treatment plan.  The Zipnosis technology semi-automates this diagnostic Q&A data collection process.  

Using an adaptive approach, the Zipnosis software leads the user through a series of diagnostic questions to capture the patient's medical history and pertinent symptom information, just as a clinician would do. According to the company, their typical diagnostic interview lasts less than 5 minutes.

Once the Q&A process is complete, the user ends the interview session and awaits a response.  Behind the scenes the user's diagnostic Q&A results are  reviewed by a board-certified clinician who sets a treatment plan for the user, then submits it to the user's account .  During business hours, a clinician will respond back to a user within an hour according to Zipnosis literature.  When medically necessary, a clinician will include in the treatment plan prescription drugs (excluding pain medications and narcotics).  When prescriptions are part of the treatment plan, users can have their prescriptions sent electronically to one of 80,000 pharmacies nationwide for fulfillment.   

If a user has a condition that cannot be treated virtually, Zipnosis will direct the user to an appropriate healthcare provider.  The Zipnosis service is available 24/7 and can be accessed through any device with an internet connection, including mobile phones and tablets.

Zipnosis does not provide pharmacy services, so any prescription costs are the user's responsibility.  However, at its current cost of just $25 per diagnostic session it is even less expensive than other  online doctor services we have found.  Faster, less expensive and more convenient than an office visit sounds like a potential winning recipe to us.

Zipnosis is still in its early stages and is not yet available in all States.  However, this innovative, cost-effective online platform has drawn interest from the broader healthcare community.  Most notably, Fairview Health Services, a major Minneapolis based health system and one of just 32 Pioneer Accountable Care Organizations nationwide, has incorporated the Zipnosis platform into their web presence.  In addition, reports indicate that the company is working with the University of Alabama and UCLA Medical Center on initiatives set to be rolled out later in 2014.

While it is still too early to predict the future of the Zipnosis service itself, you can rest assured that there other many other companies working on innovative ways to use the internet to deliver healthcare more efficiently and cost effectively. 

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