Zipnosis to launch virtual care service lines to prevent spread of germs during cold and flu season

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Zipnosis is getting the word out about an incredibly effective means of avoiding the spread of germs this cold and flu season: Use virtual care.

"One of the best ways to be a good healthcare citizen and avoid spreading germs to others in overcrowded waiting rooms at clinics, urgent care centers and emergency rooms is to take advantage of online virtual visits," said Kevin Smith, DNP, FNP, FAANP, Chief Clinical Officer at Zipnosis, the first virtual care company enabling leading health systems to launch virtual care service lines staffed by their own clinicians.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concurs, noting that the flu (influenza) is a serious condition that can require hospitalization and can even lead to death. On a web page focused on advice to stop the spread of germs, the CDC advises: "If possible, stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others."

Evidence-based clinical research supports this strategy. For example, a widely cited study published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology found strong evidence that well-child visits subsequently resulted in a 3.17% increase in influenza-like illnesses among children and their family members within two weeks of the visit. This germ swap results in more than 766,000 additional office visits for flu-like symptoms each year and nearly $492 million in annual costs.

Virtual care to the rescue

The convenience of virtual healthcare is magnified during the busy cold and flu season when wait time at the clinic or urgent care center are sure to be longer than usual.

"When you're suffering from cold or flu symptoms, virtual healthcare delivered by providers from your community's own health system allows you to receive the same accurate diagnosis and high-quality care you would in person, but more cost effectively and in the comfort of your own home," Smith explained. "In addition, if you're contagious, you're doing your part: You won't spread your germs to the high school player who's at the urgent care center getting treated for a sprained ankle or to the parent at your family practice clinic whose child has a preventive care appointment."

Even on a normal day, primary care provider offices tend to be booked solid, with perhaps one or two open slots available for urgent, unscheduled appointments, Smith explained. "Along comes an outbreak of the flu, and getting in to see a primary care provider can be challenging," he said. "Meanwhile, the local urgent care clinics are overwhelmed with walk-ins."

During major community outbreaks of the flu, health systems such as Fairview Health Services in Minnesota that use the Zipnosis virtual care platform have actively encouraged patients—on their websites, on voicemail, and through any other means possible—to take advantage of the virtual visit option.

"Virtual care is a great 'relief valve,' to ensure all who need care receive it promptly, especially during cold and flu season," said Dang Tran, MD, physician executive at Fairview Heath Services. "In addition, by offering virtual care, we are providing patients with greater choice and convenience. Virtual care also has the additional benefit of keeping ill patients out of our waiting rooms and clinics, where they cannot infect some of our most medically fragile patients."

The Zipnosis virtual care platform can be launched at a health system in just 60 days and allows the patient to use a smartphone, tablet or PC to complete an online, adaptive interview to document their condition. Without adding staff, a provider from the patient's local health system then reviews the patient's information and follows evidence-based, best practices-guided pathways to provide a diagnosis and treatment plan within an hour—usually less. If needed, the interview can be supplemented with a phone or video visit. If laboratory testing is required, a "ZipTicket®," or healthcare "boarding pass," is issued that provides the patient front-of-the-line access to lab services at a location within the health system—while still allowing him or her to bypass crowded clinic waiting rooms.

"When health systems and good healthcare citizens team up to use virtual healthcare to prevent the spread of germs during cold and flu season, it can make a truly positive difference for their communities," Smith said.

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