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Anthem offers virtual doctor appointments

Jul 29 2013

Ohio.com Akron Beacon Journal
By Cheryl Powell

One of the largest insurers in the state is offering its enrollees appointments with a doctor from the comfort of their home — or anywhere else there’s a computer.

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield recently launched a virtual doctor appointment service for non-emergency problems such as sore throats, allergies and minor infections.

Consumers with access to a computer with Internet access and a web camera can get a virtual appointment with a primary-care doctor through a service known as LiveHealth Online (www.live
healthonline.com).

In the future, the service might be offered through smartphones and iPads, according to Anthem.

Anthem is contracting to provide the service through American Well, a telehealth company based in Boston.

The virtual appointments currently are available to about 1 million enrollees in participating Anthem plans statewide, Anthem spokeswoman Kim Ashley said in an email. The insurer expects to eventually roll out the program to all its 3.3 million members in Ohio.

The cost per appointment varies, depending on the plan benefits, Ashley said. Some enrollees have no co-pay or a standard office visit co-pay.

The cost for non-members per virtual appointment is $49.

Appointments are available daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. until October, when the service will expand to 24 hours a day, Ashley said.

“LiveHealth Online offers a secure means of reaching board-certified primary care doctors on demand, especially when consumers find it inconvenient to leave work or home to get a doctor’s appointment,” Eric Hoeflinger, president of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Ohio, said in a news release. “Our members and employer customers are telling us now, more than ever, that they need access, convenience and affordability in health care. LiveHealth Online is one of many ways we are able to respond to and meet their needs.”

However, the service and other telemedicine efforts are raising concerns among some physicians.

Dr. Reid Blackwelder, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told the Cincinnati Enquirer in a recent article: “To fully diagnose a patient you have never seen face-to-face is dangerous, and while we believe these kinds of visits are appropriate, it should only be with an established patient that we have actually seen in our practice before.”

ABIA support

The Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron (ABIA) is getting a $100,000 boost to its efforts to promote medical-related product development and workforce development.

The Burton D. Morgan Foundation recently awarded the grant to the Akron-based partnership.

“It is at the core of our mission to support ABIA in its efforts to develop a highly skilled and innovative workforce, while simultaneously fostering the growing biomedical sector in Northeast Ohio and across the state,” Deborah Hoover, president of the Morgan Foundation, said in a news release. “ABIA’s value to Northeast Ohio’s brightening economic future cannot be overstated.”

According to a news release, the money will be used by the BioInnovation Institute to expand efforts “to support a culture of biomedical innovation in Akron and across Ohio while encouraging collaboration among diverse health, science, engineering and entrepreneurial professionals.”

Half of the funds will be devoted to the institute’s Technology Development Fund, which helps develop and commercialize new biomedical technologies. The other half will help pay for graduate student internships.

“By providing advanced students with genuine front-line opportunities, we bolster our workforce and reinforce speed-to-market best practices that make the state more competitive,” ABIA President and Chief Executive Dr. Frank L. Douglas said in a prepared statement.

The BioInnovation Institute is a partnership among Akron’s three hospital systems, Northeast Ohio Medical University and the University of Akron, along with other sponsors, that was created to boost medical-related economic development, research and education.

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or cpowell@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.

 

Article on the Ohio.com Akron Beacon Journal website here.

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