Virtual Doctor Visits Could Prove a Boon to US Patients

by Gopalan on  June 20, 2008 at 12:54 PM News on IT in Healthcare
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 Virtual Doctor Visits Could Prove a Boon to US Patients
A Boston-based startup, American Well, is taking online consultation to a new level. It is no more impersonal interaction, but a virtual visit, webcam, voice protocols and more.

Instead of waking up your doctor at odd hours, you'll have the option of any accredited medical specialist live, 24-hours a day, via the Web or phone.

The American Well online health care marketplace, which launched this week, provides a secure, Web-based, voice-over-IP enabled platform that facilitates for patients on-demand, real-time "virtual consultations" with medical professionals any time of day.

American Well's business model has it partnering with health insurers and health plans that will reimburse member doctors for virtual consultations with patients. Doctors will be paid a lower amount for virtual consultations compared with office visits, but among the pluses for physicians is that the remote interactions with patients can be done from the clinician's home, office, or anywhere that's most convenient for him or her. The same is true for patients.

"Online health care is an innovative consumer health solution," said Michael Stollar, HMSA VP of marketing and communication, in an e-mail to InformationWeek. "It is easy to use and convenient and will fill an immediate need in Hawaii's health care industry and improve access to health care statewide."

Meanwhile, healthcare providers in other states also have started signing up to participate as online clinicians offering their consultation services on the American Well site.

Lehigh Valley Hospital and Health Network CEO Dr. Elliot Sussman says he expects "a couple hundred" of the organization's doctors to participate in the American Well network once the marketplace is ready to go live, probably later this year, in Pennsylvania.

Those behind the project seem to hope that reliable advice can be offered on the need to rush emergency rooms just through the webcam consultation.

"When a physician is interacting with a patient online, it will be as close as possible to an in-office visit," says American Well CEO and co-founder Dr. Roy Schoenberg.

Because the American Well consultations are real-time exchanges between patients and doctors, the interactions are "much more advanced" than secure e-mail exchanges that some doctors provide as a service to patients through secure messaging platforms such as RelayHealth, says Schoenberg.

Some insurers, including various Blue Cross Blue Shield organizations, have for several years reimbursed doctors for e-mail consultations facilitated by RelayHealth.

In those previous offerings, "it could take 48 or 72 hours to get an e-mail reply" from a physician, Schoenberg says. By contrast, the exchanges on American Well are "on-demand, real-time."

The service also can provide convenience and peace of mind for patients who are waiting to visit a backlogged specialist. "It can take three months for a new patient to see a dermatologist in Boston," says Schoenberg. During that wait, anxious patients can contact a dermatologist via American Well for consultation, he says.

The service also means potential savings for employers, as well as boosts in worker productivity. Instead of calling in sick or taking hours off for non-urgent doctor office visits, employees may decide to get a fast, online consultation with a physician instead, says Schoenberg.

The service can help patients make quicker care decisions when their own doctors aren't available.

Source: Medindia

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