telehealthToday, nearly anyone with online access can see a doctor or healthcare professional immediately. No appointment, no travel, no waiting, no hassle.

A computer, smartphone or tablet increasingly connects patients and providers via live, two-way video consultation—24/7/365. What’s more, the typical insurance co-pay is relatively low, and for some people, employers cover the cost.

This trend, driven by immediacy, convenience and Internet technology, is exploding on several fronts, and it is certain to challenge your healthcare, hospital or practice marketing plan. Here’s a snapshot of what’s here and now…and some of what you can expect to see soon.

The high altitude perspective reveals that most US hospitals are gearing up for telemedicine. About 200 networks serve some 3,500 facilities in delivering clinical services, according to the American Telemedicine Association. Telemedicine or tele health services routinely facilitate remote monitoring and information exchange, and more recently, applications and services connect with patients using “two-way video, email, smart phones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology.”

Going big: Mercy’s virtual care and telemedicine command center…

Described as the first virtual care center and the nation’s largest single hub teleICU, Mercy Telehealth Systems plans to open a dedicated, 120,000-square-foot, four-story facility in Chesterfield, MO, in 2015. It will “accommodate nearly 300 physicians, nurses, specialists, researchers and support staff.

“Care will be delivered 24/7 via audio, video and data connections to locations across Mercy as well as outside of Mercy through partnerships with other health care providers and large employers. Mercy estimates that the center will manage more than 3 million telehealth visits in the next five years.

Putting a live new face on “Doctor Google?”

Online searches for health and medical information have long been one of the top search categories. But it appears that search giant Google is testing a way to push beyond delivering relevant information and content. Various tech-news and Google-watchers—such as Engadget—report seeing a “Help-outs style feature that offers video chats with doctors when you search for symptoms.”

During this test period, there’s no cost to the consumer for “doctor chats” (something that is likely to change), doctor-patient communications are reportedly “HIPAA-compliant,” and advisory statements caution that video consultations are not a replacement for an actual doctor’s office visit.

Online services, health plans and others…

We can’t predict if or when Google’s doctor-consult feature will move beyond the test phase, but it seems like fertile business ground and Google is a powerhouse in Internet search. Several online doctor companies and insurance providers are carving out shares in a growing market sector.

Online Care Anywhere is an online health care service from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. “Each video visit costs $40. If their employer doesn’t pick up the tab, patients can pay using a healthcare spending account, a flexible spending account, or by credit card. Doctor on Demand takes $10 of that money, and the doctor gets the rest,” reports VentureBeat.

Teladoc—perhaps the nation’s largest telehealth provider—contracts “with insurers and large employers to provide video doctor visits for members and employees, who get 24/7 access to a network of doctors for non-emergency medical issues,” says VB News. “The doctor visits can happen via phone, online video, mobile app, or through HealthSpot kiosks.”

Some services are two-way video chat, while others provide for email exchange. Some include provisions for prescriptions through a local pharmacy. Other companies and service providers in this arena include First Stop Health, American Well, MeMD, InteractiveMD and Livehealth online.

FOR RELATED READING, see our previous post titled: Like It or Not: Doctors Can’t Ignore Virtual Healthcare Visits.

Author: Lonnie Hirsch

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Stewart Gandolf

Stewart Gandolf

Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder at Healthcare Success Strategies
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is CEO of Healthcare Success, a medical marketing and health care advertising agency. He is also a frequent writer and speaker. Most importantly, he is happily married and a "rock-n-roll daddy" to two wonderful girls.
Stewart Gandolf
Stewart Gandolf


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