The Doctor Will See You Online: American Well Launches Web-Based Medical Consultations
Boston startup American Well lifted the veil on its ambitious and long-awaited online health care marketplace today. With its 24/7 online network—where people with medical concerns can log on and be matched within minutes with a physician who will provide a live medical consultation—the company hopes to disrupt business-as-usual in the healthcare industry, and potentially lower costs for both consumers and health insurers.
American Well co-founder and co-CEO Roy Schoenberg, who started the company with his brother Ido Schoenberg, jokingly calls the marketplace “almost like a Web 2.0 dating service for consumers and health-care providers.” Indeed, interactive, Web 2.0-style technologies have been seeping gradually into the healthcare industry over the last couple of years. Companies such as Atlanta-based RelayHealth and San Francisco-based Medem, for instance, have introduced “e-visit” services that allow consumers to exchange secure text-based messages about non-urgent health problems with doctors.
But American Well says its system will go far beyond this text-based model, supporting sessions where doctors and patients can connect in real time via webcam, instant message, or telephone. Physicians will have patients’ medical records at their fingertips during the consultation, and will be able to recommend treatments and write prescriptions online if appropriate. American Well will handle all billing and insurance matters related to each consultation behind the scenes.
The company thinks consumers will like the model because it offers immediate access to medical care, at any time of the day or night, without the hassle of scheduling an appointment and going to a doctor’s office. And it thinks doctors will be interested, too, since it will allow them to log into the system, offer their services, and earn reimbursements whenever they have time.
American Well designed the marketplace mainly to be offered to consumers by health plans as an add-on to their existing care options. But it will also be available on an a la carte basis to uninsured patients, according to Schoenberg. The system isn’t intended to keep patients from seeing doctors in person when they need to—but it could cut down on overall health costs by helping patients solve simple health problems without an expensive hospital or clinic visit. “What we are doing is drastically expanding the scope of care that can be rendered to patients in the least expensive possible setting, which is their homes,” says Schoenberg.
“We’re not claiming that this is going to replace traditional healthcare,” he adds. “There are numerous areas of care that require an in-person experience, where a physical examination is important. And certain diagnoses cannot be done over the Web. But the fact that you have a complementary tier of access that is much more immediate to you wherever you are will have a significant impact on your ability to utilize medical services.”
American Well timed the launch of its online marketplace to coincide with the AHIP Institute 2008, the annual meeting of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the leading trade association and lobbying group for the health insurance industry. American Well is a sponsor and exhibitor at the meeting, which is being held in San Francisco, and produced a free recorded webinar on Web 2.0 technologies in the healthcare industry that’s accessible via the meeting website.