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Dr. Roy Schoenberg is the president and CEO of telehealth provider American Well Corp. He co-founded the Boston-based company with his brother in 2006 for patients to access medical services, rather than just information, over the Internet. Today, American Well provides telehealth technology for more than 600 employers in addition to health insurers, hospitals and individuals. Dr. Schoenberg recently spoke with Business Insurance Staff Reporter Shelby Livingston. Edited excerpts follow.
Q: What is interest and uptake of telehealth services like right now, and how does that compare with a few years ago?
A: The sheer amount of business that we at American Well have seen over the last 12 or 18 months probably compares and equates to the entire amount of business that we've done in the previous eight years ... There is a growing consensus, one that didn't exist for many, many years, that telehealth is actually a safe way of delivering health care to Americans.
Q: How are you working with employers to deliver telehealth to their employees?
A: American Well works with employers to design a custom experience, select appropriate providers and create communications to effectively reach their employees. We are involved in the launch and rollout of the service, with a presence at health fairs and community events, supporting user adoption through monthly emails, and delivering analytics on usage and (return on investment).
Q: How are you able to replicate the patient experience and quality of care of an in-person doctor's visit through a videoconference?
A: The Federation of State Medical Boards issued last year guidelines for the use of telehealth in medical practice, and it said two very, very important things. First of all, telehealth is a safe way to do medical care ... The second thing they did is they took the effort to stipulate “What are the key operating principles?” They said telehealth care has to abide by the same principles as in-person care ... the patient has to know and feel comfortable that they have made an informed choice on who they are going to get care from.
Q: In April, UnitedHealthcare announced it would cover telemedicine and said it would partner with American Well. What are the implications of that?
A: It is a big deal because United is the No. 1 health insurer in the U.S. That brings 50 (million)-60 million more Americans into the fold of telehealth.
Q: It also seems like an endorsement of telehealth.
A: At this point, we are transitioning from an age where it's called endorsement to where it's called recognizing that this is just part of doing business. If you don't offer telehealth as a health insurance company, you're now perceived as behind the times.
Q: What are some of the hurdles you're dealing with when it comes to adoption?
A: The No. 1 hurdle is payment. The announcement that United made, mimicking similar an-nounce-ments that were made by other health insurance companies and in some cases government agencies, is kind of a landmark in itself in saying that in the future, that's going to be the case from a consumer standpoint. You only have to pay a co-pay.
Q: What's the next generation of telehealth?
A: Looking forward, the role of telehealth is to fundamentally change how physicians interact with their patients. Telehealth has an enormous role in making sure that that patient and his or her physician are going to be able to do much better health care, with much more frequent, lighter touch, much more appropriate kind of tailored health care. — that is necessary.
Jeffrey Ruby is the founder and CEO of Newtopia Inc., a Toronto-based health care technology consultant. Before founding Newtopia, he was a co-founder and chief operating officer of Cleveland Clinic Canada and Life Screening Centres Inc. Recently, he discussed trends in the workplace wellness and health benefits technology industries with Business Insurance Associate Editor Matt Dunning. Edited excerpts follow.