The telehealth company American Well is partnering with the Cleveland Clinic and Nemours Children's Health System to let patients choose which doctors they see virtually.
American Well offers telehealth services directly and also partners with insurers, hospitals, health systems, and others to offer white-label telehealth services. For instance, Anthem's LiveHealth Online service is powered by American Well.
Challenging the status quo
When patients use telehealth services, they typically don't have a choice in which provider they see. "It's a blind date," John Jesser, an Anthem executive, tells the New York Times. But on Tuesday, American Well unveiled an online marketplace, called "the Exchange," that will allow patients with certain health plans to choose from a range of doctors.
Roy Schoenberg, CEO of American Well, says the initiative is patient-focused by helping connect patients with physicians they want to see.
"We want to do for health care what Amazon did for book stores initially, and online retail, ultimately," Schoenberg says, "which is to establish a national platform on which online health care runs." He adds, "We can connect consumers with the best provider brands across the United States as part of a national, virtual health care system."
Under the program, Anthem through LiveHealth Online will offer its customers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia the option of selecting nurse practitioners at the Cleveland Clinic to diagnose and treat common urgent care conditions. Peter Rasmussen, who oversees distance health for the Cleveland Clinic, says the marketplace is a potential "game changer" for the industry and is part of the Clinic's broader strategy to make it easier to access care.
In addition, American Well will allow consumers in Florida who use its telehealth platform, Amwell, to access board-certified pediatricians at Florida-based Nemours Children's Health System, and will open up the offering to patients in Delaware and Pennsylvania later this year.
Both offerings will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Other health systems, such as St. Luke's University Health Network and Intermountain Healthcare, are contemplating joining the new marketplace, Reed Abelson reports for the Times. "It's definitely an intriguing idea that we are going to look at closely," Brian Wayling, an Intermountain executive says.
A changing market
Jesser says the new American Well marketplace is a sign that telehealth is maturing. "Consumers want health care when they want it," he says. "The toothpaste is out of the tube."
Schoenberg notes the existing business structures between insurers and health systems will remain in place. "We're not changing how the world works," he says. Instead, the marketplace and the growth of telehealth are about taking what already works in a physical setting and putting it online.
But telehealth still faces several challenges, including regulatory issues which prevent doctors from prescribing medications across state lines. Some also worry that telehealth services could actually increase costs by encouraging people to seek treatment for minor issues that they would otherwise treat themselves (Abelson, New York Times, 5/16; Comstock, MobiHealthNews, 5/17; American Well release, 5/17).
The Advisory Board's take
Laurie Sprung, Consulting
Health care organizations want to engage with telehealth and recognize its transformative potential. But their No. 1 question is how they can experiment with the technology in ways that make both strategic and financial sense, given that—depending on the market—the economics might not quite support telehealth yet.
American Well's Exchange can be another arrow in the quiver—it opens up another potential way for some health systems to use telehealth to drive strategic value.
Yet even when weighing all the options, it can still be tricky to figure out what telehealth strategy is right for your organization. That's where we can serve as a resource. To find out more about how The Advisory Board can help your organization with its telehealth strategy, email me at email@example.com.