American Well CEO Shares Vision on Future of Virtual Doctor Visits and How Healthcare Reform Will Boost His Company

1/22/10

A little more than a year ago, American Well was still waiting for its first customer to launch its Web-based system, which enables real-time interactions between patients and doctors over the Internet. Then on January 15, 2009, after much anticipation, the system went live for the Hawaii Medical Service Association, the Hawaii franchise of Blue Cross Blue Shield.. It’s a day that American Well CEO Roy Schoenberg recalls fondly, the day when the now 4-year-old firm’s vision of online healthcare became a reality.

I spoke to Schoenberg at length last week to find out what his firm had learned about how patients use the 90-employee company’s technology, and also to get a preview of what’s in store for the firm and online healthcare in 2010. In general, the company’s well-greased PR machine has been very careful about when, what, where it shares information about its operations and the use of its technology. (And in large part due to the novelty of patients seeking care online, there have been no shortage of stories about American Well and its exploits.) But Schoenberg shared some interesting tidbits about where the company is headed that, while general in nature, provided a glimpse at what to expect in the year ahead.

To quickly recap the American Well story, the company made a big splash back in June 2008 when it announced that it had landed its first deal with the group in Hawaii and struck an agreement with Microsoft to integrate American Well’s system with Microsoft HealthVault, the online personal health records system. The company has since sold its system to the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota; OptumHealth, a unit of private health insurance giant UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH); and then TriWest Healthcare Alliance, a Phoenix-based health plan for military personnel and their families. While four health plans isn’t many customers, Schoenberg has argued that his firm has found adopters of its system at an exceptional rate in the context of the healthcare industry, which often lags others in the implementation of new technology. (The CEO made this case last June in an interview with Wade.)

With the system in use for just over a year, Schoenberg has a wealth of information about the practice of online care. In fact, he dropped a few interesting facts about the use of online care during our interview: the majority of patients that have used the firm’s system have been women; slightly more than 50 percent of the online doctor visits are consults for allergies, aches, colds, and other routine ailments; and physicians from some 23 medical specialties are providing care on the system, to name a few things. Though the CEO declined to share traffic figures for the company’s system, he said that there are now hundreds of physicians offering treatment to tens of thousands of regular patient users of the online care platform.

I’ve saved what I view as the most interesting info from my talk with Schoenberg in the following Q&A.

Xconomy: How does American Well plan to further integrate its technology into the healthcare system this year?

Roy Schoenberg: One thing that has been illuminating to us is the fact that we originally thought that the system was going to be used for medical care proper. And we now see that the system is being used in behavioral health, for example, which we never envisioned. TriWest is using the system for behavioral health. I know that UnitedHealth [via OptumHealth] is going to try it as well on their system. We’re seeing applicability of the system in other areas, such as the use of the system to project additional services into the retail pharmacy. That is something you are going to see in 2010. And there are other areas such as use of the system in care management.

What is also true is that all these things are going to have an impact on what we do in 2010. We are no longer at the point where we are developing on whiteboards. This is a very real system that has a lot of traffic that enables us to learn and extend it in places where the use shows us there is value. We have very ambitious plans for expanding the application of online care immediately in 2010. One of these areas is the introduction of a … Next Page »

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