Amwell CMO: Google partnership will focus on AI, machine learning to expand into new markets

Amwell is looking to evolve virtual care beyond just imitating in-person care.

To do that, the telehealth company expects to use its latest partnership with Google Cloud to enable it to tap into artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to create a better healthcare experience, according to Peter Antall, M.D., Amwell's chief medical officer.

"We have a shared vision to advance universal access to care that’s cost-effective. We have a shared vision to expand beyond our borders to look at other markets. Ultimately, it’s a strategic technology collaboration that we’re most interested in," Antall said of the company's partnership with the tech giant during a STAT virtual event Tuesday.

"What we bring to the table is that we can help provide applications for those technologies that will have meaningful effects on consumers and providers," he said.

The use of AI and machine learning can improve bot-based interactions or decision support for providers, he said. The two companies also want to explore the use of natural language processing and automated translation to provide more "value to clients and consumers," he said.

Joining a rush of healthcare technology IPOs in 2020, Amwell went public in August, raising $742 million. Google Cloud and Amwell also announced a multiyear strategic partnership aimed at expanding access to virtual care, accompanied by a $100 million investment from Google.

During an HLTH virtual event earlier this month, Google Cloud director of healthcare solutions Aashima Gupta said cloud and artificial intelligence will "revolutionize telemedicine as we know it."

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"There's a collective realization in the industry that the future will not look like the past," said Gupta during the HTLH panel.

During the STAT event, Antall said Amwell is putting a big focus on virtual primary care, which has become an area of interest for health plans and employers.

"It seems to be the next big frontier. We’ve been working on it for three years, and we’re very excited. So much of healthcare is ongoing chronic conditions and so much of the healthcare spend is taking care of chronic conditions and taking care of those conditions in the right care setting and not in the emergency department," he said.

The company works with 55 health plans, which support over 36,000 employers and collectively represent more than 80 million covered lives, as well as 150 of the nation’s largest health systems. To date, Amwell says it has powered over 5.6 million telehealth visits for its clients, including more than 2.9 million in the six months ended June 30, 2020.

Amwell is interested in interacting with patients beyond telehealth visits through what Antall called "nudges" and synchronous communication to encourage compliance with healthy behaviors, he said.

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It's an area where Livongo, recently acquired by Amwell competitor Teladoc, has become the category leader by using digital health tools to help with chronic condition management.

"We’re moving into similar areas, but doing it in a slightly different matter in terms of how we address ongoing continuity of care and how we address certain disease states and overall wellness," Antall said, in reference to Livongo's capabilities.

The telehealth company also wants to expand into home healthcare through the integration of telehealth and remote care devices.

Virtual care companies have been actively pursuing deals to build out their service and product lines as the use of telehealth soars. To this end, Amwell recently deepened its relationship with remote device company Tyto Care. Through the partnership, the TytoHome handheld examination device that allows patients to exam their heart, lungs, skin, ears, abdomen, and throat at home, is now paired with Amwell’s telehealth platform.

Looking forward, there is the potential for patients to get lab testing, diagnostic testing, and virtual visits with physicians all at home, Antall said.

"I think we’re going to see a real revolution in terms of how much more we can do in the home going forward," he said.

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Amwell also is exploring the use of televisions in the home to interact with patients, he said.

"We've done work with some partners and we're working toward a future where, if it's easier for you to click your remote and initiate a telehealth visit that way, that’s one option. In some populations, particularly the elderly, a TV could serve as a remote patient device where a doctor or nurse could proactively 'ring the doorbell' on the TV and ask to check on the patient," Antall said.

"It’s video technology that's already there in most homes, you just need a camera to go with it and a little bit of software. It’s one part of our strategy to be available for the whole spectrum of care and be able to interact in a variety of ways," he said.