American Well enables online specialist consultations at point of care

By Mike Miliard
11:01 AM

Today at the World Health Care Congress, American Well, the Boston-based maker of online care systems, announced the next step in its mission to better connect patients with doctors, irrespective of location.

Moving beyond its previous telehealth offerings, which enable online doctor visits from the home or office, the company's newest product, Online Care Team Edition, will "transform the availability of healthcare services inside the primary care physician's office," American Well president and CEO Roy Schoenberg tells Healthcare IT News.

The Hawaii Medical Service Association (HMSA), the Blue Cross Blue Shield plan of Hawaii, will become the first health plan to deploy Team Edition, which will bring live, on-demand specialist care consultations into primary care docs' exam rooms – greatly reducing the delay, inconvenience and cost associated with the traditional patient referral process.
"Imagine your primary care physician decides that you need a referral," Schoenberg explains. "Today, the ritual that follows is they give you that referral, and depending on your health insurance product you do or do not need to get approval for it. But essentially you go home and you need to find a physician of that type, and you need to schedule an appointment, and then you need to wait six weeks until you see them, and then you travel and see them, and then you come back home, and then you go back to your primary care physician.

"Now imagine that instead of this, when you walk into your physician's office and they decide that they need to have this referral, they have an online care system on their desk as part of their regular computer. They have the ability to look at dermatologists, for example, that are within their network, and they have the ability to bring up a live consultation with that dermatologist right there, when you're in their office, instead of sending you for referral."

The upshot, says Schoenberg, is that "the scope of care that can be given to you in a timely fashion by your primary care physician is now completely transformed. It's no longer that they serve as the referral central, as some cynics kind of look at it. But that they are, truthfully, at the center of the coordination of your care. And they have the ability to bring into your care every kind of discipline that is needed."

The launch of Team Edition accompanies recent market and clinical research that documents the benefits of improved provider-to-provider collaboration. A recent meta-analysis of 23 studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that improved interactive communication between primary care physicians and specialists was associated with improved patient outcomes and delivered a “better return on investment than many clinical interventions.”
What's more, it greatly expands access to care, allowing one's primary care doctor to "consult with any other physician, anywhere else in the country," says Schoenberg. For remote and/or rural areas, that's hugely valuable.

"The introduction of Online Care Team Edition reflects HMSA’s commitment to making the promise of the medical home a reality in our state," said Mike Gold, executive vice president and COO of Hawaii Medical Service Association. "As we launch into our second year of providing immediate, 24/7 access to physicians on the Islands, Team Edition is the natural next step. We believe that it will increase access to specialty care in the communities that need it most."

"In a time that calls for change and innovation in healthcare services, we are harnessing technology to transform the delivery and availability of specialty care," said Ido Schoenberg, chairman and CEO American Well. "Team Edition extends quality specialty care into the hands of the patient’s own primary care physician, allowing them to render and coordinate much broader, timely and convenient care for their patient panel. The primary care practice is now the gateway to the rest of the healthcare system, irrespective of its location."