Telehealth services from companies such as American Well are a growing option for patients who can't make it to the doctor's office and for doctors who'd rather not be tied to a practice.
When a president touts
face-to-face video chats between doctors and patients in a State of the Union
address, as President Obama did Jan. 25, it's clear that telehealth has made
strides as a real option for doctors, pharmacists and patients, particularly for
veterans in rural areas
Telehealth allows health
care professionals and patients to connect in real time through a Web or phone
While addressing the need to
increase coverage of high-speed wireless networks to 98 percent of all
Americans within the next five years, President Obama dropped a mention of
telehealth: "This isn't about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls. ...
It's about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto
a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a
patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor."
Through insurance companies
such as OptumHealth, WellPoint and Blue Cross Blue Shield, doctors and patients
are using the Online Care telehealth platform from American Well
to connect through
Internet video chats or simply voice in real time.
Other companies in the
telehealth space include Epic Systems, RelayHealth and Kaiser Permanente with
its KP OnCall
From their homes, patients
can hold video chats with pharmacists through pharmacy chain RiteAid. In the
stores, they can use a computer and Webcam in a "semiprivate space"
to consult with physicians, according to Dr. Roy Schoenberg, president and CEO
of American Well, which launched Online Care in January 2009.
"We can completely
revolutionize the expectation of the pharmacy," Schoenberg explained to
eWEEK. "When a patient is going into pharmacies, they can actually get
care there-see a physician, then walk over and fill [the prescription].
In addition to availability
to all residents in Hawaii as well as areas of New York and Texas, all
residents of Minnesota
can access the service. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota was one of the first
companies to offer telehealth technology to its employees and later rolled out the service to all residents in the state. Telehealth sessions
Janel Woods, a manager in
learning development at Blue Cross in Egan, Minn., participated in a pilot
session for Online Care. When her 8-year-old son was getting migraines during
soccer season, she turned to Blue Cross Minnesota's Online Care Anywhere portal for help. She
was concerned about missing work and her son missing school. So both she and
her son held a video chat with a doctor through a Webcam.
"The physician ended up
sending me some research," Woods told eWEEK. "I happened to use it
more as like a consultation. I wanted to find out if there were less costly
solutions," she said.