by NATHANIEL NELSON
Winona residents no longer have to make the trip to the hospital for a simple check-up. With Winona Health’s new SmartExam program announced today, patients will be able to use their smartphones, computers, or tablets to receive care at the touch of a finger.
The program, which launches in Minnesota today and in Wisconsin on a later date, begins with an online questionnaire of current symptoms, medications, and health history. There is also a self-examination portion, where patients can go through some tests on their own and report back what they find.
From there, a provider at Winona Health will review the information and provide a diagnosis and treatment plan. Patients with common illnesses, like the flu, colds, allergies, rashes, urinary tract infection, pink eye, sore throat, and others will be able to be quickly diagnosed and move into treatment. In the case that the symptoms are more serious and require an in-person visit, they are referred for an appointment and the charge for the SmartExam is waived.
“We don’t want to try to disguise this as something it’s not. It’s not an emergency room, and it’s not something people should be going to for an emergency,” said Chris Watras, chief of emergency and urgent care services at Winona Health. “But this is an area where we haven’t been providing care, and this is a way for us to meet more people’s needs and provide better health care for the community. “
In total, the interview takes between 15 and 20 minutes, with doctors responding within the hour.
The fast-paced nature of the program will help patients save time, Watras explained, allowing them to avoid disruptions to their work day, or the inconvenience of driving to the hospital for a common cold.
“This will help a number of people, like parents with young children who would be dreading going into the doctor’s office to be seen, elderly patients with mobility concerns, or college students who are on a health plan where Winona Health is not covered,” Watras said.
It’s not only the speed that’s a plus –– the program is also hugely affordable. The virtual visits cost only $39, and for the rest of this month, users can try it out for only $20. Additionally, if there is no diagnosis made, the visit is free. According to Winona Health, by working through a digital format, doctors are able to cut down on the time needed for a visit and the savings is passed onto the patient directly.
“The benefit with this, I think this is a cost-effective way to provide care that’s very convenient and low-cost,” Watras said, adding that many patients at Winona Health have high-deductible insurance, so having the low-cost option will prove invaluable.
Patients can also get prescriptions through the program for birth control and support with behavioral health issues, so it’s not just for when you have the sniffles.
“Members of our medical staff researched this tool and found it to be an effective way to provide the care patients need for several types of appointments at their convenience and at a low cost,” Watras said. “This is an example of how Winona Health stays ahead of the curve in furthering our mission to serve our community.”
The program will be available starting on February 20 for Minnesota residents, with care for Wisconsin residents being added later. According to Watras, the only thing holding back the service from being in both states is Wisconsin licensing for Winona Health’s providers. “Once we get enough people licensed and credentialed in Wisconsin, then we’re rolling it out in Wisconsin,” he said.
For more infomation about Winona Health’s SmartExam, visit winonahealth.org/smartexam.