American Well CEO Shares Vision on Future of Virtual Doctor Visits and How Healthcare Reform Will Boost His Company
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team version of the system. Everything we’ve done up until now allows the consumer to acquire online healthcare from providers. The team addition, which is becoming commercially available at the end of the first quarter, will allow provider-to-provider consultations.
X: How would you make money from the use of your system for provider-to-provider consultations?
RS: Well, it means that primary care practices, instead of sending you a referral, they can call up a specialist in real time while you are at their office. That changes the whole notion of referrals, and that changes when you get the appropriate care. Even if you get a referral at the doctor’s office, you usually have to wait six weeks or so for an appointment. With our team edition, that goes away. The primary care provider stays more in touch with the care you are receiving, because they are physically there when that cardiologist or specialist is giving you that consultation. That is going to make a very significant impact on how care from specialists is delivered.
Later in 2010, we plan to offer the capability for providers to incorporate the delivery of online care services as part of their practice system, which means that the physician sitting in his or her practice could have the ability to manage two different waiting rooms in parallel; there’s going to be the physical waiting room, where there are going to be patients waiting, and then there is the virtual waiting room, where his or her patients are waiting at home to get care. The system will support the sequencing, so the front desk at the practice will be able to send a patient in the physical waiting room to see the physician or allow a virtual patient visit.
X: Now that you’ve seen the online healthcare phenomenon transform from a concept into reality, how do you see this field evolving?
RS: I think what we are going to see is two different parallel evolutions. First of all, I think we are going to see people become more comfortable using the system. It’s a word-of-mouth thing happening. I think that, to a degree, we’ll see more utilization as broadband continues its distribution across the country, even though it’s pretty prevalent already. You can’t buy a laptop today that doesn’t have a webcam built into it, and I think that’s going to be a great driver as well. Also, as patients and physicians get more comfortable with these technologies, you’ll see the impact of that on utilization and how this is a regular way of getting healthcare. This is change that we see happening from the ground up.
From the top down, the efforts that we are seeing to computerize [medical records] are also going to work extremely in favor of our system, because if you have the capability to tie more of the clinically relevant information about the patient and put it in front of the physician in the online care system, the better the care the physician can render to the patient. So with the adoption of electronic medical records, and with the adoption of electronic prescriptions, you’re going to see the value of online care growing and growing because the physician on the online care system will be much better informed about the patient. We see that as the most important factor that improves the level of care rendered in the system. The more the physician knows, the more comfortable they are in providing care.
X: Is American Well interested in forming partnerships with electronic medical records providers to integrate your online care system with their systems? Is that something that you would do, or will it be up to health plans to decide whether to integrate your system with an EMR?
RS: This is the interesting thing about the way the healthcare world looks like. Health plans have very little to do with what happens inside the practices of physicians. Whether it is small practices, hospitals, or healthcare delivery networks, health plans really deal with the financial coverage of the services. They have very little say about what happens in those places. So what you would see is the large electronic medical records systems from companies like Epic and GE are kind of not exposed to this, yet.
I can tell you that effectively this is going to change in 2010, because we’ve already seen and have been approached by some large EMR systems out there to establish integrations. And this is coming not because the health plans want it, but the physicians are saying that we understand that we are going to be caring for patients with this technology, and the sooner we bridge the two the better. Whether it’s going to be the giants like Epic or GE or whether it’s going to be very innovative companies like … Next Page »