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Care partners: Online visits present new opportunities for payers to become care facilitators


According to Deloitte's 2008 survey of healthcare consumers, two out of three consumers want to use their doctor's Web site to get information about health conditions or treatments; and 61% of consumers want tools that would provide personalized recommendations to improve their health. Roy Schoenberg, MD, CEO of American Well Systems, is well versed in healthcare consumers' growing interest in online tools. He invented the company's online health marketplace concept, which debuted in June.

Roy Schoenberg, MD, CEO of American Well Systems, is well acquainted with healthcare consumers' growing interest in online tools. Dr. Schoenberg is the inventor of the company's online health marketplace concept, which debuted in June. He previously founded CareKey Inc., and led the software vendor through the introduction and adoption of its Web-based health management solutions by more than 35 million users.

Dr. Schoenberg believes that there are benefits associated with online physician visits and drawbacks of not implementing them.

Q. Does that mean we can expect to see health plans play a greater role in the care equation?

A. They are already beginning the shift from the position that they had for the last 20 years, in which they were literally the after-the-fact payer. It's not a philanthropic thing. They really believe that if they become care partners with the consumers, they can impact how the consumers are presenting themselves to consume services, and that of course, will impact what they need to pay at the end of the day.

More importantly, for them to reap the benefit of [consumer involvement], they need to make one significant change: They need to become a visible entity at the point of care where they traditionally weren't. They need to become physically present. If they're aiming to appropriate care, they need to be present at the point of care. Now, that doesn't mean that they need to become a delivery entity, but they need to become more of a facilitator of the actual interaction. When they're there, they can impact what happens in that instance much more broadly than they could until today.

Q. Do online physician visits enable health plans to become the facilitator?

A. They become the facilitators because for their membership and their providers to come together, they have pretty much the natural role of being the platform of that meeting. They have the membership, and they have the providers, and the brokering of whatever happens between them can only be made by the health plan. So yes, I think they consider online or electronic visits to be the natural platform for bringing their two biggest assets together and controlling what happens in between.

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