United subsidiary joins with American Well to offer online visits nationally

The deal expands upon similar programs with Blues plans in two states.

By Emily Berry — Posted July 1, 2009

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UnitedHealth Group's OptumHealth subsidiary plans to build a national network of physicians who can offer online visits to patients through the same portal two Blue Cross Blue Shield plans have adopted as a way to give members 24-hour access to doctors.

American Well, based in Boston, reached a deal a year ago with Hawaii Medical Service Assn., the state's Blues plan, to offer online care, and earlier this year announced it would roll out its service to members of Minnesota's Blues plan as well.

The OptumHealth-American Well deal, announced in June, will mean that eventually, doctors and patients in the other 48 states will be able to use the service, said Rob Webb, OptumHealth Care Solutions chief executive officer.

The company plans to roll out online visits gradually, building its online care network physician by physician, Webb said.

OptumHealth's sister company UnitedHealthcare has nearly 33 million members and is among the payer "customers" OptumHealth will work with to offer online care, Webb said.

As part of the deal, OptumHealth will add its eSync platform to the American Well portal. The program offers suggestions and information for the physician during a patient visit based on the patient's medical records and evidence-based medicine, Webb said.

Roy Schoenberg, MD, MPH, American Well's president and co-founder, said eSync creates a visit in which "even if a physician doesn't know a patient very well, suddenly they are incredibly knowledgeable about their health."

The Hawaii Medical Assn. has taken no formal position on the online visits. The Minnesota Medical Assn. has said that while it supports online innovation and convenience, it worries that coordination of care is being taken away from a patient's primary care physician in this scenario.

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