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WellPoint Taps American Well For Telehealth

Online healthcare through video, secure chat, or phone will be available to WellPoint's insurance plan members starting late this year.

Image Gallery: Wireless Telehealth Brings Medical Help To Those In Need
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WellPoint has announced that it will make online care services available to members of its affiliated health plans by adopting American Well's Online Care platform. Online Care enables individuals to access physicians and clinicians via video, secure chat, or telephone technology.

The announcement, made last week at the America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) conference in Las Vegas, is important because of WellPoint's large customer base, said Irene Berlinsky, IDC's senior research analyst covering multiplay services.

"The WellPoint-American Well partnership is significant because of WellPoint's size. It is one of the largest health insurers in the country and therefore able to introduce online visits to a large cross-section of Americans," Berlinsky said.

Berlinsky also said she views the trend of taking the patient-doctor visit online as a logical outcome of several market trends in which consumers have grown accustomed to performing certain private activities online, such as banking.

"Some would undoubtedly find it appealing to access a doctor's opinion on-demand and at any hour. Health plans, however, are seeking to deliver care in the least expensive setting, making the patient's home an attractive option. Even physicians may welcome the chance to work from home and outside of traditional office hours," Berlinsky said.

Nevertheless, Berlinsky notes that American Well's telehealth model has its challenges.

"Success of such services is not guaranteed. Long-term success will hinge on identifying the types of visits and ailments best-suited for online diagnosis, assuaging patient fears about sub-quality online care, and reassuring doctors who fear liability. The quality of the broadband connection and Web cameras on each end of the interaction will also need to be addressed," Berlinsky said.

Company executives at WellPoint said they viewed the adoption of Online Care as a way to improve the access of quality, affordable healthcare for their customers.

"We recognize the need for healthcare to become more accessible and convenient than ever before, especially for individuals living in rural areas. We are pleased to work with American Well in the development of this new option," Dijuana Lewis, executive VP and chief executive officer of WellPoint's Comprehensive Health Solutions business, said in a statement.

The Online Care service will enable members of WellPoint's affiliated health plans to engage in live encounters with primary care and specialty physicians, as well as other clinicians. Members can initiate these encounters from their home or workplace at any time, via the Web or telephone. During each live interaction, physicians can review the member's available clinical information, speak with the member, prescribe medications as appropriate, and suggest follow-up care. The system will automatically create a complete record of each encounter, supporting continuity and collaboration among the providers caring for a member.

WellPoint, which is one of the nation's largest health benefits companies, with more than 33 million members in its affiliated health plans, will begin building an Online Care provider network with the goal of launching the program in select markets, yet to be determined, in the fourth quarter of 2010.

"We share WellPoint's mission to increase access to quality, affordable health care," Ido Schoenberg, CEO of American Well, said in a statement. "At this important moment in healthcare change, we look forward to joining forces with WellPoint to realize this goal through the use of innovative technology."

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