Healthcare on-demand

Healthcare on-demand (iStock)Earlier this week, I attended the Health 2.0 conference in San Francisco. While it may feel like the healthcare industry is still lacking inertia to evolve when it comes to technology, there is at least one emerging market that continues to innovate: Online Care.

The concept of connecting with the right physician for you from the comfort of your own home and, having an online consultation is already here thanks to new Web-based platforms such as American Well Systems. During a conference deep dive, CEO, Roy Schoenberg, provided an interesting peak into where Online Care (previously known as “in absentia healthcare) stands today, and where it’s going.

Physician access is a real issue in our country. The vast majority of patients today are unable to see a doctor on the day they need care. Standard wait times are high (54 days for a dermatologist). And yet this makes little sense since there are 203,000 physician offices in the US compared to 120,000 gas stations. And you still can’t get an appointment! While primary care physician offices are only open an average of 25% of our week, Online Care promises 24/7 access. Gartner published a paper stating that online care is going to transform medical care in this country. They predict that in 3 years, 25% of eligible healthcare will move into this system.

Online Care technologies are already facilitating real-time communication and care delivery between physicians in a variety of specialties and consumers through Web, video or phone conversations. In the last year, we’ve seen evolution in use. Hawaii was the first state to develop an online resource for doctor’s visits. In conjunction with the HMSA, Hawaii’s largest insurer and American Well, the service offers 10-minute online sessions with a credentialed participating physician for a flat fee ranging from $10 to $45. There are even ratings and reviews so you can get recommendations from other patients. Meanwhile, Minnesota has launched a work-site access program with large employers in the state, providing employees with real-time contact with docs. And a division of UnitedHealth Group will soon begin deploying American Well’s platform to hospitals, practices, and patients across its network of over 70 million members.

But the promise of online care is not only to improve access, Schoenberg insists that we will see improvements in the quality and continuity of care.  He revealed a new product called Insight, intended to eliminate the concerns of a patient being seen by a physician with whom they have not had a previous encounter. The Insights tool provides the physician with patient information including medical records, gaps in care, and the appropriate medication changes. Schoenberg insists that this will go a long way to make sure the e-visit represents a high quality of care.

Of course in-office doctor visits will remain important at times, especially in an emergency. However, according to the American Medical Association, up to 70% of doctor visits are informational and unnecessary and could be avoided with a phone or e-mail consultation. Online Care will increase efficiency for health plans, physicians, and consumers. There’s a lot of catching up to be done in the healthcare compared to other industries in the use of technology. But Online Care is already making the medical home a reality, and using technology improve the healthcare delivery system.