April 30, 2012
Telemedicine Tools That Are Transforming Healthcare
Telemedicine Tools That Are Transforming Healthcare (click image for larger view and for slideshow)
American Well's telehealth platform has been reworked to make it easier for consumers to connect with healthcare providers, including adding support for mobile telehealth encounters and expanding interoperability with medical devices.
American Well's Online Care 6.0 update, released Monday, represents the company's "significant investment in the consumerism of our service," said American Well CEO Roy Schoenberg in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare. The company's previous releases "revolved around health plans" that make American Well's services available to members, and focused on users first creating profiles to become eligible for online care, said Schoenberg. The new release allows "even just consumers, as well as [health plan] members to go online and immediately see a list of providers and services, available upfront, often with one click," he said. "It's very patient oriented." In addition to the American Well site being reworked for improved ease of use, the company has added support for touch-screen mobile devices, allowing patients to access healthcare providers via iPhones, iPads, and iPods, Schoenberg said. Initially, the mobile support will enable voice-based communications, but by summer, two-way video encounters will also be available. [ Telehealth, like most IT initiatives, has risks and benefits. See Telemedicine Dilemma: Savings Or Healing Hands More Important? ] "At the end of the day, webcams aren't going to work for some consumers," Schoenberg said of the previous need for American Well telehealth patients and healthcare providers to use webcam-equipped desktop or laptop computers to engage in videoconferencing. "Mobile devices, such as iPads and iPhones, that have full-blown videoconferencing capabilities eclipse desktop and laptops" for telehealth encounters, he said. The handheld devices make it easier for consumers to connect with healthcare providers from any room of their homes--as well as on the road, in the workplace, or anywhere else they could seek telehealth services. For healthcare providers, a free American Well mobile application allows clinicians to manage their online waiting rooms, as well as send and receive fee-based secure messages. The new version also makes it easier for healthcare providers to extend virtual teleheath services to existing patients in their physical practices, as well as allow "warm transfer" capabilities that enable providers to directly transfer patients to affiliated providers, such as medical specialists, at the end of an online visit, Schoenberg said. Also, Online Care 6.0 supports real-time connectivity with medical devices that patients with chronic conditions often use at home, including glucose meters for monitoring diabetic patients and spirometers, which are used by asthmatics. Online Care 6.0's ability to support real-time transmission of data from these devices makes it easier for physicians to provide telehealth services to a wider spectrum of patients, including those who are house-bound and having difficulty traveling for office visits. The enhanced platform also supports derma-cams, opthalmoscopes, stethoscopes, otoscopes, and other devices used by physicians and nurses. This also makes it easier for healthcare providers to consult with other providers, such as a community clinic clinician looking to bring in consultation by a specialist or other expert, said Schoenberg. The new capabilities are available now from American Well. The company's clients, including health plans, are expected to make the new services available to their members as the health plans upgrade their existing systems to Online Care 6.0, Schoenberg said. In related news, Consult A Doctor, a provider of cloud-based telemedicine services, revealed it will also soon be offering a new iPhone application to link consumers with Consult A Doctor's 24x7 nationwide network of telehealth providers. The 2012 InformationWeek Healthcare IT Priorities Survey finds that grabbing federal incentive dollars and meeting pay-for-performance mandates are the top issues facing IT execs. Find out more in the new, all-digital Time To Deliver issue of InformationWeek Healthcare. (Free registration required.)
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