WellPoint rolls out telemedicine offering

The health plan is setting up a system that would allow patients to visit affiliated doctors through the Web or by telephone at any time.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted June 29, 2010

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WellPoint has contracted with a Boston-based company to set up a system allowing its members to have virtual visits with physicians who participate in the company's health plans.

WellPoint, the nation's largest private-pay health plan by membership, announced June 10 at the annual America's Health Insurance Plans conference that it is affiliating with American Well, which has set up similar networks for Blues plans in Hawaii, Minnesota and New York, as well as for UnitedHealth Group's OptumHealth subsidiary.

Indianapolis-based WellPoint said it will begin recruiting physicians in unspecified "select markets" to participate in the virtual visits, which are scheduled to begin late in 2010.

The American Well system allows a health plan's members to initiate encounters with primary care and specialty physicians, as well as other clinicians, through the Web or by telephone. Physicians would have at hand the member's clinical information and would be able to prescribe and suggest follow-up care. A record of each encounter is generated automatically, according to American Well.

Patients would be matched with physicians available in the network and would not necessarily see their own doctors. Physicians would get an unspecified payment from the health plan for conducting a virtual visit.

WellPoint says the partnership is an attempt to improve access for its members, something it expects to worsen as more people become insured post-health system reform. American Well says plans that have signed up also see it as a cost-saving measure.

"For health plans, and delivery networks ... it's the ability to care for patients at their homes, which happens to be the least expensive cost setting," said American Well Systems CEO and President Roy Schoenberg, MD, MPH.

WellPoint spokeswoman Jill Becher said the pricing details for its American Well offerings haven't been worked out. Dr. Schoenberg said most plans that currently offer the service make the visits available for between $25 and $50, but not all contracted plans pay for the visits.

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