Tuesday, January 06, 2009

House calls via webcam a step in the right direction

At last someone is taking virtual medical services seriously on a statewide scale. The article says insured patients pay $10 - they must mean $10 per virtual session.

I have read that some doctors now offer email contact to some patients too. I've been trying to get my doctor to do that for years but she doesn't want to communicate that much. Perhaps if doctors would subscribe to a secure Twitter-like service that would enable patients to post health updates like a running dialogue it would give doctors more insight into how their patients are actually doing on a regular basis instead of just seeing patients when they have a health crisis. Doctors or their assistants could scan the dialogues periodically and if they see a troubling pattern starting to emerge they could then proactively contact the patient before a crisis arises.

American Well, a Web service that puts patients face-to-face with doctors online, will be introduced in Hawaii on Jan 15.

Its first customer, Hawaii Medical Service Association, the state’s Blue Cross-Blue Shield licensee, will make the Internet version of the house call available to everyone in the state, the company said.

The service is for people who seek easier access to physicians because they are uninsured or do not want to wait for an appointment or spend time driving to a clinic, said Roy Schoenberg, co-founder and chief executive of American Well Systems, which is based in Boston.

Dr. Schoenberg, a physician, said that American Well had piqued the interest of policy makers in Washington who want to expand access to health care. Insurers in other states will soon offer the service, he said.

Patients use the service by logging on to participating health plans’ Web sites. Doctors hold 10-minute appointments, which can be extended for a fee, and can file prescriptions and view patients’ medical histories through the system. American Well is working with HealthVault, Microsoft’s electronic medical records service, and ActiveHealth Management, a subsidiary of Aetna, which scans patients’ medical history for gaps in their previous care and alerts doctors during their American Well appointment.

The Hawaiian health plan’s 700,000 members pay $10 to use the service. The insurer also offers the service to uninsured patients for $45. Health plans pay American Well a license fee per member and a transaction fee of about $2 each time a patient sees a doctor.
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