Healthcare Technology Featured Article

March 14, 2011

Healthcare Technology and News: Telehealth in Today's Healthcare Business Model

I recently had the opportunity to interview an executive for American Well, a developer of telehealth technology. American Well’s Online Care Suite is the first solution to connect patients and doctors in real-time via the Web or phone in order to conduct a live, immediate online consultation or a virtual house call.

American Well’s Online Care Suite is not to be confused with Skype, which connects any two or more people in a Web conference call. American Well isn’t just connecting anybody; it is connecting real patients with health inquiries to real doctors via virtual conferencing technology. These doctors can provide meaningful care, while enriching these consultations with data from outside systems such as medical history and clinical analytics.

Right now, American Well’s solution is live in Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Kansas and Texas; and there are plans to roll out online care to every state in the United States. American Well has agreements with national health companies to provide the service through insurance companies, hospital groups, and pharmacy chains. Consumers then log on to their insurance sites, like Blue Cross, in their home states and get access to Online Care (do not go to the American Well website to get service). Doctors can only treat patients who live in their state so the service is designed for individual states and groups.

As CEO of American Well, Roy Schoenberg, MD, MPH, explained, “When you as a patient are at home and log on to that system, you have the ability to say ‘I have this kind of issue.’ The system will pretty much take your hand, get a better understanding of what you are presenting, give you a list of available, credentialed providers or credentialed physicians from your health plan network -- not just any Joe Shmoe on the Internet.”

The point is, there is an increasingly blurred line between technology and healthcare, as healthcare providers begin to implement next-generation technologies in their everyday activities and caretaking. Take California for instance: TMC’s Jyothi Shanbhag recently reported that “Advancing California's Leadership in Telehealth Policy: A Telehealth Model Statute & Other Policy Recommendations,” a report by the Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP), was recently reviewed by California lawmakers. This report identified policies that will promote greater use of telehealth technologies, to maximize their benefit to all Californians. Telehealth uses a variety of technologies to improve access to care and health outcomes when patients are hundreds or even thousands of miles away from healthcare providers.

On a nationwide scale, the Veterans Administration health system is utilizing telehealth on a daily basis. The VA's 49,000-patient network is part of telehealth or telemedicine movement, improving care and lowering costs by keeping patients out of hospitals and nursing homes. The reason: the cost of monitoring a VA patient at home is $1,900 per year, compared with $77,000 for nursing home care, according to the government agency.

Nonetheless, the implementation of telehealth comes with technological and economic hurdles. "We are at the top of the hype cycle right now, with everybody talking about how wonderful this will be," said Jonathan Linkous, president of the American Telemedicine Association. "But it won't be anywhere near what people are talking about unless it's integrated within the healthcare delivery system." A business model to fund this stuff within the standard health insurance system is a key part in advancing the acceptance of nationwide and perhaps worldwide telehealth.

Jaclyn Allard is a HealthTechZone Web Editor. She most recently worked on the production team at Juran Institute, a quality consulting firm producing its own training and marketing materials. Previously, she interned at Curbstone Press, a nonprofit publishing press in Willimantic, CT, and fulfilled the role of Editor-in-Chief for the literature and arts journal published by the University of Connecticut. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

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