HealthPartners surpasses 1 million video visits since COVID-19 pandemic began as patients seek safety and convenience

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When the COVID-19 pandemic took center state in Minnesota in March 2020, hospitals and clinics rushed to alter how they offered clinic visits due to worries about patient and provider safety.

Video visits quickly replaced traditional in-person clinic visits at HealthPartners locations in Minnesota. In fact, video visits reached their peak last May accounting for 50 percent of all visits.

"We were able to train 2,000 clinicians on how to do video visits and create training materials in the matter of days," said Dr. Annie Ideker, a family physician at the HealthPartners clinic in Arden Hills. "Literally in one day a small team of us actually developed this strategy and completed five video visits by the end of the day. That was on March 19."

As of February 15, HealthPartners had completed over 1 million video visits since the start of the pandemic.

While the numbers have dropped off, 22 percent of all visits at HealthPartners are done via video.

"Patients don't want to have to take a half-day off of work and drive to the clinic, sit in the lobby, and wait in the exam room if they can just do a 20 minute video connection with their clinician," said Dr. Ideker.

Dr. Ideker believes video visits will continue to be popular for patients especially once the pandemic comes to a close. Ideker says the expanding how technology is used will mean more people have access to healthcare than ever before.

"Maybe the don't have access to transportation and they've had barriers to seeking care due to socioeconomic or other circumstances," Dr. Ideker said. "This has created an opportunity for those individuals to seek care when maybe they couldn't access care before."

One of the issues surrounding video calls is the accessibility of broadband, particularly in rural parts of Minnesota. Dr. Ideker says while it's important for places like HealthPartners to lobby for more broadband accessibility, there are other solutions beyond building up the state's infrastructure.

"Maybe it's hubs in local libraries or getting religious communities involved and having WiFi access so people can drop-in their area churches or places of worship to access medical care."

There are other, unintended benefits, when it comes to video visits that go beyond offering easily accessible healthcare according to Dr. Ideker, who says patients have said they prefer video visits especially during the pandemic.

"We actually can have, in some ways, have more robust interactions with patients on video than we can in person," she said. "In person, we're covered up in personal protective equipment, they're wearing masks, and there isn't that personal connection. On video, we don't have to wear masks and we can see one another."