NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 21, 2008

If American Well -- a new health care marketplace -- has its way, patients will no longer have to wait a month to see a doctor for an urgent sore throat, wait all day for a doctor to return their call or leave work midday and drive a long distance for a routine appointment.  Instead, they will get online and chat face-to-face with physicians over Webcam, says Dr. Roy Schoenberg, the start-up's co-founder and chief executive.  

So, how will this work:

  • Consumers whose health plans use American Well will log on to their health plans' Web sites to access the service and will pay a co-pay.
  • Doctors hold 10-minute appointments, which can be extended for an optional fee, and can file prescriptions through the system.
  • Uninsured patients can also use it, for a fee that the health plans choose but which will be less than $50.
  • Health plans pay American Well a license fee per member to use the software, as well as a transaction fee of about $2 a patient each time a patient sees a doctor.
  • American Well files all the claims, and the money is deposited into the doctor's bank account.

Moreover, American Well has formed partnerships with HealthVault, Microsoft's electronic medical records service, so patients can get access to and share their medical information with doctors, and with ActiveHealth, that will alert doctors about gaps in care during an American Well appointment.  Insurer A.I.G. has agreed to provide malpractice insurance to doctors providing online care.

Of course, not all conditions can be diagnosed and treated over a Webcam, says Schoenberg; but national studies on online care have found that patients would like to have Web chats with primary care doctors about colds or diabetes management, for example, or with specialists about symptoms such as lower back pain or bad headaches.

Source: Claire Cain Miller, "The Doctor Will See You Now -- Online," New York Times, November 19, 2008.

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