Leveraging AI to Provide a Rural ‘Retail Medicine’ Experience

A patient uses her mobile phone to answer the Winona Health SmartExam questionnaire and connect with an urgent care clinician.Artificial intelligence-enabled technology can help clinicians make better diagnostic and treatment decisions while improving access and quality. These are critical issues for all providers and patients, but particularly so for those in rural areas, where limited transportation options often contribute to delayed or foregone treatment, resulting in disease progression and higher costs.

Winona (Minn.) Health is using an intelligent online exam tool built on an AI platform to automate care delivery and improve both efficiency and the patient experience for those in remote areas. Patients can access Winona Health’s SmartExam platform from Bright MD 24/7, complete an online questionnaire about their current symptoms, health history and medications and connect with an urgent care clinician in minutes.

In a recent Advancing Health podcast interview with John Supplitt, senior director of AHA Rural Health Services, Winona Health CEO Rachelle Schultz says the platform helps clinicians quickly diagnose illnesses and injuries and recommend customized treatment plans.

This “retail medicine” approach with $39 virtual visits, Schultz says, is based on the latest medical guidelines and makes optimal use of clinician time to review the patient’s health history, provide a diagnosis and prescribe medications that can be picked up at the patient’s pharmacy of choice. Once a patient invests the 15-20 minutes it takes to create an account and complete the online questionnaire, the information is immediately picked up and reviewed by a Winona Health care provider — often in between seeing patients in person.

The clinician review process — conducted by one of four physicians or nine nurse practitioners — typically takes two to three minutes without touching the patient’s electronic health record. The completed visit then goes directly into the patient’s medical record.

Since the program launched this past June, about 1,000 consumers have registered online, Schultz says, and providers now perform 45-60 exams per month, most commonly for colds/coughs/flu, allergies and women’s health issues. Winona Health will look to expand the program to some of its clinics this year.

For more on AI’s impact on health care and how leverage the technology to improve care delivery, see the AHA Center for Health Care Innovation’s Market Insights reports.

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