Five-hospital MultiCare Health System has launched a virtual care service, enabling patients throughout the state to complete an online form detailing minor medical conditions and receive a treatment plan, if appropriate, from a clinician.

The cost is $25, which compares with a $40 fee for an existing electronic virtual teleconsultation service that the Tacoma, Wash.-based health system offers. The goal is to increase medical access for patients and give appropriate care at decreased costs, says Christi McCarren, senior vice president of retail health at MultiCare.

The new service, called MultiCare eCare, and a collaboration with local RediClinic convenient care centers, had a pilot launch with employees in December and went live for healthcare consumers in early January.

MultiCare eCare is appropriate for minor medical conditions short of anything that could be considered urgent care, McCarren says. These minor conditions include colds, sinus infections, sore throats, hay fever, allergies, bladder infection, vaginal yeast infection, pink eye, athlete’s foot, canker or cold sore, eczema or dermatitis, jock itch, ringworm and fungal skin infection, among others.

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The new eCare system, operated by virtual care platform vendor Zipnosis, is more sophisticated than an email chat with a clinician and less sophisticated than a teleconsultation, McCarren explains. Consumers go to the eCare web site and complete an online interview that uses evidence-based algorithms to tailor follow-up questions based on information already entered in the interview, with the process taking about five minutes.

Consumers typically get a response, and treatment plan if appropriate, within one hour during business hours. The responding clinician will give advice, prescribe medication if appropriate, or advise the patient to seek more comprehensive medical care if the condition is urgent.

The eCare web site, optimized for mobile devices, also includes educational materials. For now, MultiCare is pleased with the early rollout of the service and is gathering information to determine if more promotion is warranted, McCarren says. “As we go along, if we are not hitting audiences we want, we’ll change the strategy.”

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