At the American Telemedicine Association event this week online care services provider American Well announced that the newest version of its offering would enable patients to conduct real-time video visits with physicians and other care providers via their mobile devices.
While American Well's core customer base has always been major health plans, including WellPoint, UnitedHealth, and various Blues, the company's CEO Dr. Roy Schoenberg says its customer base has diversified greatly in the past few years. It now counts hospital systems, physician practices, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and retail pharmacy chains like Rite Aid, among its customers. Schoenberg says all of its customers will be upgrading to the new, mobile-enabled version of the platform.
"It used to be that telehealth was thought of as a healthcare system-oriented service," Schoenberg told MobiHealthNews. "It had become a consumer oriented service. Everyone has begun to realize that online care is a service for patients."
The 6.0 version of American Well's Online Care system marks the company's first foray into a consumer or patient-facing mobile app. Last year American Well launched an app for physicians and other care providers that used its system.
"The first iteration of our mobile app was a provider or physician iPhone app, which was more like an assistant since it offered PDA-like functionality. It helps physicians who were practicing via Online Care to see exactly what is going on in their online practice. It lets them see patients cuing up, see messages, see the records of those patients," Schoenberg said.
According to Schoenberg, the new apps will be "full-blown" versions of American Well's Online Care system, which will enable providers and patients to interact in real-time via mobile devices. While the mobile version of the service does not offer any distinct new features, it does run on the same system leveraged by the online platform -- it's just a different user interface, Schoenberg said. The mobile UI offers the same security and privacy as the web.
"The effort was not to create a new flavor of delivering care but to give you that same care over a mobile app," Schoenberg said. Accessing the service from computers sometimes presents challenges for patients and some physicians, he said, because they have to rig up external webcams and microphones in some cases.
"All of that goes away because mobile devices by their nature -- not just those made by Apple, but others, too -- have done an amazing job incorporating all of these technologies into one single interface," Schoenberg said. "If you are carrying an iPad, then you have a full blown video conferencing system at your fingertips. Consumers and physicians who have had some challenges utilizing these technologies on the web are going to find themselves in a place where this is infinitely more accessible."
Given the recent explosion in the number of tracking tools, smartphone-enabled health devices, and other disease and chronic condition management apps, is the need for real-time video consultations with physicians still a pressing one? Video has long been the centerpiece of telehealth service offerings, and Schoenberg acknowledges that disease management has evolved somewhat in the past decade, but video still has a prominent place in the continuum of care.
"Disease management is all about changing patient's health behaviors: Eat the right things, make sure you remember to titrate the right drugs, etc." Schoenberg said. "Along the lines, business management began to put in computerized health risk assessments and a lot of those products are now web-based or mobile apps, but they are increasingly displacing the need to have a nurse repeatedly contacting the patient by phone to provide feedback. More and more of that surveillance and feedback is taking place through apps that are much closer to the patients."
"When an intervention is needed, it used to be that the disease manager would tell the patient they had to go see the doctor," Schoenberg said. "Now, telehealth steps in at that point. Seeing a doctor can now be supplanted by telehealth."
Of course, American Well isn't the only company that provides real-time video consults with physicians and other care providers. TelaDoc announced plans last year to offer iOS and Android apps to its providers. Hello Health, a subsidiary of Myca Health, provides online video consults between patients and physicians -- especially those at employer clinics. Finally, 3G Doctor in the UK has offered mobile-based video consultations with patients in that country for a number of years.
More on the American Well launch in the press release below:
PRESS RELEASE: BOSTON, April 30, 2012 /-- American Well(TM) today announced the availability of its Online Care Suite 6.0 (Online Care 6.0), the most comprehensive telehealth infrastructure on the market today. Online Care 6.0 provides organizations such as health plans, delivery networks and retail pharmacies with a convenient, all-in-one telehealth platform that connects consumers and healthcare providers for immediate online visits anywhere, anytime. Key advancements include the introduction of mobile access via smartphone and tablet apps, along with a true consumer-centric experience and the ability to exchange vital data directly with electronic health records and key medical devices. Taken together, these capabilities set a new industry standard for the scope, quality and convenience of care that can be delivered through telehealth.
American Well's Online Care 6.0 addresses critical challenges faced by many healthcare organizations today, including:
1) Improving access to high-quality, affordable care in a cost-effective manner;
2) Coordinating care around chronic patients to achieve better outcomes; and
3) Engaging consumers in their environment - home, workplaces and on the go.
"Telehealth has increasingly become part of the solution for enabling better access to high-quality, cost-effective care, but the challenge has been to weave the technology into the way our healthcare system works today," said Roy Schoenberg, MD, MPH, CEO of American Well Systems. "With Online Care 6.0, we have taken telehealth to the next level by offering a new experience as simple and easy to use as the best eCommerce sites, while maintaining the heavy-duty required integrations into record and payment systems, devices and workflows necessary for serious and safe care delivery. Telehealth is no longer a silo within the healthcare system; it is an established channel for making that system reach and connect consumers and providers, wherever they may be."
Online Care 6.0 introduces significant advancements in usability and value reflecting the extensive learning from current Online Care operators in the US and overseas. Highlights of the new solution include:
Care with one click--A new Web experience allows consumers to instantly see and connect with the providers available to speak with them, sometimes even without having to enroll or log in - an experience reminiscent of leading sites in online retail, travel and banking.
The "house call" via mobile apps--New mobile capabilities let American Well customers connect consumers with available, appropriate providers from their iPhone, iPad and iPod touch mobile devices, increasing convenience and access to care. The mobile capability initially enables voice-based consultations and will expand to include two-way video later this summer. On the provider side, a free mobile app also offers features to manage online waiting rooms, and send and receive fee-based secure messages.
Embrace pre-existing patient-provider relationships--With Online Care 6.0, providers can conveniently consult with their existing patient clientele as an extension of their physical practice, as well as see new patients online. Additionally, a "warm transfer" capability allows providers to transfer patients directly to an affiliated provider at the conclusion of their online visit, supporting coordination and continuity while reducing unnecessary referrals.
Real-time connectivity to medical devices--Consumers and healthcare providers are now able to plug key medical devices directly into their computers and transmit data and readings during live online visits. Devices include derma-cams/opthalmoscopes, stethoscopes, otoscopes and spirometers.
The release of Online Care 6.0 coincides with accelerating adoption of telehealth across the healthcare industry. Recently, the US Department of Veterans Affairs announced the elimination of co-pays for "in-home video telehealth care," marking a milestone in reimbursement. Meanwhile, in an announcement earlier this year American Well revealed that services powered by its technology are now available in states accounting for nearly 55 percent of the US population.
About American Well
American Well(TM) brings healthcare into the homes and workplaces of patients. Its Online Care Suite is the industry's leading telehealth solution, connecting providers and patients for live, immediate, and clinically meaningful encounters using the Web or phone. With its patented technology, the Online Care Suite removes traditional barriers to healthcare access - such as geography, mobility, and time constraints - while enabling providers to deliver quality care in a flexible, convenient manner, generating revenue along the way.
SOURCE American Well