The Virtual Care Insider

Flu Season 2019-2020—Is your Health System ready?

in Use Cases

Dr. Lisa Ide

Dr. Lisa Ide
Chief Medical Officer
August 20, 2019

If you were to attend one of our weekly all-company meetings, you’d hear me make an update on the latest health concerns our staff should be protecting themselves against. In the summer it would likely be about wearing sunscreen or the rate of tick-borne diseases, but for five months each winter, I’d be talking about the influenza.

We recently had one of the worst flu seasons in history—with more than 80,000 flu-related deaths and 900,000 hospitalizations in the United States alone. Schools in Oklahoma and Texas had to close, and governors in New York and Alabama directed state resources toward the epidemic. As the flu continues to threaten the health of millions worldwide each year, those of us in healthcare must ask, what are we doing to mitigate the risk to our patients and communities? 

The good news? Virtual care can play a critical role in preventing the spread of this awful illness.

So as flu season 2019-2020 is quickly approaching, I’d urge health systems across the country to:

  1. Have a strong virtual care program in place and

  2. Get the word out in the communities you serve that seeking care for the flu virtually is the best first course of action

Let’s talk about why. 

Minimize close contact.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the top preventative actions to stop the spread of germs and the transmission of different strains of the flu are to 1. avoid close contact with sick people and 2. stay home at least 24 hours after the fever is gone.

Those preventative actions are really hard to follow when you are seeking care in a doctor’s office. Virtual care empowers patients to seek treatment from home, quarantining symptoms, and reducing interactions with people who aren’t sick, especially vulnerable populations like children or the elderly.

Efficiently use your providers’ time.

If your virtual care platform uses asynchronous interviews, you can cut provider time down to about two minutes versus the typical 15 minute in-person visit.  This efficiency allows your providers to give more time to patients with severe symptoms, including those routed by virtual visits to seek care in-person.

One of the largest academic medical centers in the Southeast found their asynchronous online adaptive interviews saved more than 600 hours of clinical work time by keeping infectious (though not seriously ill) patients out of the waiting room during last season’s flu outbreak. By equipping providers with the ability to diagnose and treat patients in less time, with no additional time spent on documentation, providers were able to care for an expected influx of patients, without overextending themselves or compromising on quality.

Get a clinically appropriate diagnosis, fast.

It’s important during an epidemic that patients are getting the highest quality of care quickly. Virtual care eliminates both drive time to a clinic and the often extended waiting room session. It also allows patients to rapidly (typically within one hour) find out if they have symptoms consistent with influenza or another illness and receive the appropriate treatment plan to get them back on their feet.

Which brings us to clinical quality. Online adaptive interviews don’t get run down when they see a large influx of patients or when they work extra-long hours. They’re also built on clinical best practices and guidelines, and adherence to those best practices has been proven to be higher via a diagnosis made through an online interview than a diagnosis made via an in-person visit. 

So I urge you all, like I will urge our Zipnosis team very soon, to wash your hands frequently, get a flu shot, and make sure you have a healthy virtual care strategy in place before flu season hits.

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