AmWell, Cisco partner on TV-centered telehealth platform for seniors

The companies pitched the upcoming service as a convenient in-home option for Medicare Advantage patients overwhelmed by digital apps.
By Dave Muoio
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Seeking to better reach aging patients in their homes, telehealth company American Well has partnered with Cisco Systems on an upcoming effort to deliver virtual care through home television sets, the companies announced today at American Well’s annual Client Forum in Boston.

“This is a very, very different exercise than any of the tech health that we’ve done in the past, because this isn’t about people using an app to get a service,” Dr. Roy Schoenberg, president and CEO of American Well, said on stage during the event. “This is about the ability for us as healthcare to walk into granny’s bedroom, as if granny was under our jurisdiction, in our hospital or in our office. … [It’s] the ability for us in the healthcare world to knock, knock, knock on the other side of the glass of the television and say ‘Hey Sally, Dr. Jordan is here to see you. Can he come in?’ That is a fundamental change to the way we operate our healthcare system.”

The companies did not share any specifics on supplemental hardware for the in-home platform, whether it would include any major features outside of video-based doctor’s visits, or a potential launch date. However, they did note that privacy and patient consent considerations will play a role in its design.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT

App-based telehealth services have come a long way, Schoenberg said, especially in regard to patients’ access to care. But so far, that benefit has more often than not been limited to young or middle-aged consumers who have the tech skills to navigate a digital platform.

“The people that we were helping are the ones who are the prototypical consumer; the people who are at the very center of the spectrum of society, the people that are very productive, the people that make a living, the people that are tech savvy,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I think this is great … but when we talk about purpose, we can’t afford to only look at those people. When we talk about what [we are] doing to make people’s lives better, we have to talk not about those who are capable of everything, but rather about those who are the most vulnerable.”

The timing of a new senior-focused virtual care launch could hardly be better, with Medicare Advantage plans set to open up reimbursement for telehealth services in 2020. A senior-friendly product able to prevent just a single hospital day for each of the program’s roughly 20 million beneficiaries would yield $31 billion in system-wide savings, Schoenberg said, so long as it was built to be scalable and secure — which is where Cisco comes in.

“Most of your systems, whichever they are, probably run on Cisco,” he said, “and Cisco is one of those power companies that understands fully, in a scalable fashion, what it takes to rewire the way an organizations, or a system, or an industry works in order to rewrite the way we do business.”

Amy Chang, SVP and general manager of Cisco Collaboration, stressed that much of the necessary technology for this television-focused approach is already in place, making American Well’s initial pitch a few months back all the more appealing.

“[Seeing the numbers] really brought it home for me how much we could make a difference in people’s lives if we use this technology, which in many ways is already developed and ready to be put to use in this new world with the regulatory change on January 1,” she said during the event.

“What Cisco has been doing for the last 12 years is really developing these devices so that when you and I are thousands of miles apart, it can still feel like we’re right there in the room together. … I can see your facial expression, I can see if your forehead wrinkles, I can see if your color is not quite right that day, or if you look like you’re in a little bit of pain because you’re eyes are squinting and you’re gritting your teeth. All of that meta-information that can only be picked up visually … is now possible between the clinician or physician and the patient who is at home. And we’re so excited to do this together, because the technology is ready.”

THE LARGER TREND

While the pitch isn’t exactly one-to-one, American Well and Cisco’s new strategy shares a number of key points with that of Quil Health, the Comcast-Independence Blue Cross joint venture that wants to deliver pre- and post-care support through the patient’s television. What’s more, Comcast is also rumored to be working on its own in-home remote monitoring device that would use ambient sensors to monitor seniors or others with disabilities.