A large pilot program that drugstore chain CVS Health conducted found satisfaction rates topping 90 percent when patients at MinuteClinics opted for a telehealth session if the nurse practitioner or physician assistant was busy.

From January through September in 2014, 11 MinuteClinics in California and Texas participated in the study, as did 1,734 patients age 18 or older. The goal was to provide quality care while reducing wait times for the care, study authors say in an August 2015 report published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

If the wait to see the onsite practitioner was about 20 minutes, patients presenting with symptoms suitable for a telehealth session were asked if they wanted to have a remote audio-visual consultation with a practitioner, along with a telehealth-trained nurse assisting the patient and practitioner. About 70 percent of patients offered telehealth agreed to it.

Chief complaints suitable for a telehealth visit included pharyngitis, sinusitis, otitis media, otitis externa, upper respiratory infection, bronchitis, allergic rhinitis, influenza, conjunctivitis and urinary tract infection.

Also See: Legislative Support for Telemedicine Growing in Congress

In some cases, patients agreed to an online consultation but then the on-site practitioner was available before the online consultation began and the patient had an in-person visit. Survey results are based only on patients who had the online consultation.

The patient described symptoms to the practitioner, the assisting nurse used diagnostic tools and processed lab and diagnostic tests, and the practitioner made a diagnostic assessment and with the patient agreed on a treatment plan. Practitioners were able to prescribe medication electronically or via a printout of the prescription, as well as a visit summary and the treatment plan, at the originating clinic.

During the pilot program, telehealth visits were available anytime participating MinuteClinics were open. At the end of the visits, patients filled out a survey assessing the care after the assisting nurse left the room. Patient data was de-identified to conduct analysis.

One-third of patients liked telehealth better than a traditional visit and 57 percent said telehealth visits were just as good as a traditional visit. One percent found telehealth worse, and the remaining patients were not sure if telehealth was better or worse than a traditional visit.

CVS Health conducted and funded the study and all authors are employees of the organization. The full study is available for purchase here.

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