While the conventionalists argue otherwise, there is some truth to the fact that plenty of health conditions can be taken care of without actually seeing the patient in-person. Based on that assumption, AmericanWell offers an interactive service that lets patients talk to a physician in real time, anytime.
The service went live in January this year and initially focusing on Hawaii. The basic ‘interactive consultation’ uses two-way video conferencing, audio and secure text chat. It’s a step-up from the usual definition of a ‘e-visit’ which are mostly asynchronous text-based communication. Patients join for a fee, as I understand (what frustrated me was that I couldn’t find how much the fee was. I would have expected that to be extremely obvious!). Physicians sign up and make themselves available in aggregated pools of their respective discipline, which in turn are tapped into by patient demand.
So will the health plans pay for this? Until now they had signed up only two customers- the Blue Cross-Blue Shield plans in Hawaii and Minnesota. Last month, United Health Group, the largest private health insurer in the U.S., said it would begin deploying American Well’s platform across its huge network of more than 70 million members.
The concept has some viability for sure. But like anything else, it remains to be seen how well it can permeate through the tough, unyielding US healthcare system. I’m sure we’ll see many more startups with similar approaches soon.