The Virtual Care Insider

Virtual Care and Public Health: Helping Manage a Measles Outbreak in Minnesota

in Benefits

Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith
Chief Medical Information Officer
June 28, 2017

You may have heard that our home state of Minnesota is in the grip of a measles outbreak – primarily in the Twin Cities metro area, though there are several cases in outlying counties. As I write this, there are 78 confirmed cases of measles, and the number is growing. I’m not going to get on a soap box about vaccination (though, the vast majority of patients were, unsurprisingly, unvaccinated). Instead, I’ll use this example to illustrate the role of virtual care in a public health crisis like this one.

How Virtual Care Can Help

When managing certain outbreaks of infectious conditions, the value of virtual care is two-fold. First, it provides a unique channel for evaluating potentially contagious patients, taking them out of the waiting room and limiting the opportunity for infections to spread. This is particularly important when a communicable disease is active (think cold and flu season). By directing patients to the virtual visit, rather than into clinics, virtual care can help health systems curtail the spread of illnesses like influenza.

Second, and most important in this recent measles outbreak, it offers a front-line communication channel for health systems to share critical information with their patients and the community.

The early symptoms of measles are very similar to those of an upper respiratory infection – one of the top conditions patients seek treatment for via the Zipnosis platform. We collaborated with one of our Twin Cities clients to find a solution that we could deploy quickly to help manage communication about the outbreak. This is particularly important, since Minnesota medical regulations allow any person to seek virtual care or telemedicine; some states require a person to have an established relationship with a clinic to be eligible for virtual care.

Through collaboration with our health system client, we rapidly developed and deployed an online messaging feature enabling health systems using the Zipnosis platform to share important information about the measles outbreak for patients using the virtual visit system. Accessible and editable by staff within the health system, our Minnesota clients are now using this functionality to provide important patient alerts about the measles outbreak and to educate them about early symptoms, dangers, and the steps they should take if measles is a possibility.

This new feature goes beyond this one outbreak or use. Health systems can now relay information about other things their patients may need to know: updates on allergen and pollen levels, reminders to get a flu shot prior to flu season, or information on seasonal diseases like Lyme disease and other outbreaks.

Public Health and the Potential of Virtual Care

Virtual care is more than a technology – it’s a digital care delivery channel, just as important to supporting health outcomes as a nurse line or clinic. And, as patients continue to adopt virtual care in greater numbers, its value as a channel for communication, education, and care delivery will increase too.

Today, we see nearly limitless possibility for virtual care to support health systems and providers as they work to drive positive health outcomes for their patients and communities. Health systems are just beginning to understand how they can use virtual care to do more than treat common conditions, and we are excited to help them realize this potential. While this particular feature may not be a groundbreaking industry disruptor, it gives our health system clients another option for supporting the health of their communities – and to us, that’s huge.

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