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: Keep reading>>