imageExpanding its wireless footprint in health care, Verizon, the telecommunications company, announced the start of Verizon Virtual Visits today. The program will be marketed to employers and health plans to enable patients to see doctors at home or when traveling, via Verizon’s wireless network. I spoke with Christine Izui, Verizon’s quality officer, mobile health solution, earlier this week about Virtual Visits. We discussed the market forces that support the growth of telehealth and, in particular, physician visits “anywhere:”

  • There is an under-supply and poor distribution of primary care doctors and certain specialties around the U.S.
  • Employers and health plan sponsors are looking in the value-based health financing era to provide care in the right place at the right time — and in lower cost settings where appropriate
  • Patients want to be treated more like consumers with respect to transparency, convenience, access, and a retail experience (read: more enhanced than the typical ER, urgent care, or physician waiting room ambiance).
  • People — payers and consumers alike — demand and deserve a modernized health care delivery system and experience.

The program can be private-labeled (branded) for an employer or health plan. Consumers whose health plans or employers contract for this service will be able to access it via a mobile app via smartphone or tablet, or via a web portal.

The consumer would link up for a consultation with a clinician licensed in the state from which they are calling (the service is, for the time being, limited to US providers, so if you are an employee traveling out of your home state, you would virtually meet with a physician or advance practice nurse licensed in the state you’re calling from).

Contracting employees and health plans can determine criteria for clinicians in the VVV network serving their patient/employee populations (e.g., Board certified physicians, nurse practitioners), as well as choosing to use a specific health delivery system’s staff. Information generated from the virtual visits wil be collected and encrypted, and a report given to the patient. Verizon could also route the clinical information to the patient’s health system or physician.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Verizon Virtual Visits joins the landscape of commercially viable telehealth solutions already in the market, including American Well, Teladoc, and Ringadoc, among others who offer various flavors of virtual physician visits. The emergence of health care, anywhere/everywhere, is bolstered by technology advancements like the internet cloud, electronic health records, and peoples’ adoption of mobile and virtual platforms (phones and tablets, Skype and video chatting, for example).

On the demand side, people are mobile, too, and employers committed to continue to provide health care to workers seek cost-effective solutions to keep doing so. Noting that this week, PwC published its health cost forecast expecting a 6.8% cost increase in 2015, health plan payers will be keen to adopt products and services that help bend that cost curve. The evidence proving teleheath’s cost-benefits is building, so that a publicly-traded company like Verizon can launch Virtual Visits. This will be the first of many such programs we’ll see, to scale primary care, everywhere, from very big companies in the coming months.