Virtual health: A reality now more than ever

Web-based healthcare, long-eschewed by physicians because of reimbursement and liability concerns, is increasingly becoming more than virtual reality for more of today's healthcare consumers. And according to a recent survey by an arm of PricewaterhouseCoopers, half of Americans are interested in receiving quick, cost-efficient care with the click of a mouse.

Existing online health programs throughout the country allow patients to do just that--and for physicians to get paid, according to a recent piece in U.S. News & World Report.

Health plan Hawaii Medical Service Association, for example, makes it easy and convenient for patients to connect to the nearly 150 Hawaii doctors who have signed up for its Online Care program. A 10-minute online (sometimes video) discussion with a physician on duty costs $10 for members and $45 for nonmembers, paid with a credit card. While the organization uses electronic medical records for the thousands of health plan members who have registered, nonmembers create an account in which they key in their medical information.

Participating internist Irving Harper, MD, says that 95 percent of his patients using the program can be treated without a face-to-face visit, often avoiding missed workdays and unnecessary trips to the ER.

Other insurers have plans to adopt the technology created by Boston-based American Well. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Minnesota launched a pilot web program this fall and plans to offer it to all members by mid-2010. A recent partnership between American Well and OptumHealth, a division of UnitedHealth Group, will take Online Care nationwide to all consumers, regardless of insurance provider.

To learn more:
- read the article in U.S. News & World Report