Two mature companies in their respective healthcare spaces came together earlier this month to extend healthcare services where patients live and doctors work, via telehealth services.

Philips, celebrating 127 years in business this year, has gone all-in on digital health across the continuum of care, from prevention and healthy living to the ICU and hospital emergency department. American Well is among the longest operating telehealth companies, founded in 2006. Together, these two established organizations will transcend physician offices and ERs and deliver virtual care in and beyond the U.S.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Ido Schoenberg, MD, Chairman and CEO of American Well, and Jeroen Tas, Chief Innovation & Strategy Officer at Philips, at CES 2018 where they made this announcement.

In Philips’ broadening digital health portfolio, the company has developed connected products to address a number of health and wellness life-flows for people in their homes. These deal with the age range from baby through adult, and can cover head-to-toe. For example, Philips has both personal health and professional care products addressing cardiac/heart care, respiratory and sleep care, along with connected skin care, oral care, blood pressure, fall detection, and medication management.

The first use case for which the two companies will collaborate will leverage Philips’ uGrow parenting app which tracks baby’s development and manages “connected baby” things: feeding bottles and air purification, among them. Each of these are part of the growing Internet of Baby Things. Each of them generates data managed through the uGrow app and feeds back insights and advice to parents.

Now imagine you as a parent are awoken by your baby in her room, who is woefully crying and registers a temperature of 105 degrees on her connected thermometer. The Philips/American Well alliance is designed to come to your parental rescue, and your baby’s: the app will enable on-demand real-time video consults between you and a medical professional – a pediatrician, GP, mental health professional, and for feeding moms, lactation consultants – potentially replacing an inconvenient, and expensive, ER visit in the middle of the night.

That’s a very helpful scenario from a parent’s point-of-view (been there, done that – not the pediatric telehealth part, but the high-fever baby? Absolutely, and frightening).

But what about payment? asked the health economist (me). Schoenberg explained that American Well has been working with payors for years: the company has invested significantly in building a platform that manages patients’ health plan information so that her co-pay or coinsurance amount can be quickly identified, streamlining and bringing transparency to the transaction.

Again, consider the ER scenario: inconvenient, to be sure. Expensive? You bet.

This pediatric use case illustrates that together, the companies bring an easy on-ramp to clinical care, virtually, for concerned parents.

The data play here is also important: “If you can build a longitudinal view of the patient (say, a growing baby into childhood), you can be at the right place and right time to intervene before anything deteriorates,” Tas observed.

“This is a powerful value proposition,” Tas noted. “We have a healthcare system where capacity is not efficiently allocated, locked in brick and mortar. We can help balance supply and demand,” which were lovely words to this health economist’s ears.

Schoenberg noted that American Well is connected with over 100 hospitals (from “A” AllianceHealth Oklahoma to “W” for University of Wisconsin), health plans (including Anthem, who sits on the AmWell Board, many Blue Cross & Blue Shield plans, Optum and UnitedHealth Group), employers (such as Pitney-Bowes, one of the savviest companies pioneering value-based healthcare), and partners like Cerner (linking into the company’s EHR), CVS, Samsung, and Walgreens.

While consumers, especially younger ones (THINK: first-time parents), are increasingly demanding more accessible, convenient, lower-cost channels for health care, providers are also organizing to adopt telehealth. Vidyo’s survey, released this week, found that 3 in 4 U.S. healthcare delivery systems plan to launch a telehealth service in the next year. The company believes 2018 will be the year that telehealth morphs into mainstream healthcare delivery.

Key drivers for telehealth adoption among providers include efficiency, timeliness of care, ROI, and patient health outcomes. Satisfaction scores are relatively high for telehealth solutions, reaching 83% for virtual visits, 84% for acute care, and 90% for chronic health support, Vidyo learned.

The Philips/American Well alliance is well-positioned to address this growing demand, especially bringing the patient-financial aspect into the process.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Seven in 10 health systems not currently receiving reimbursement for virtual care expect to receive payment in 2018, according to the Top of Mind for Top U.S. Health Systems 2018 report from UPMC Center for Connected Medicine and The Health Management Academy. Reimbursement has long been a barrier to many healthcare providers avoiding telehealth, but as payment aligns for the service, we can expect hockey-stick growth.

The chart indicates some of the most popular clinical areas for virtual care, especially stroke, mental health, primary care, along with emergent and urgent care. Note that three-quarters of respondents believe that virtual care would improve quality and safety for patients. Four in ten providers are motivated by demand from patients, and nearly one-half see virtual care as a cost-containing effort.

Sean Duffy (Co-Founder and CEO of Omada Health) and Thomas Lee, MD (Chief Medical Officer at Press-Ganey), published a provocative perspective in New England Journal of Medicine on 11 January 2018 titled, In-Person Health Care as Option B. They ask the question: “What if health care were designed so that in-person visits were the second, third, or even last option for meeting routine patient needs, rather than the first?”

They explain how Kaiser Permanente now conducts over one-half of their patient encounters virtually, through secure email and video engagement. Not only is Kaiser a major provider of virtual care: Providence-St. Joseph Health’s Express Care system is now deployed in 33 clinics in four states. Interestingly, Providence-St. Joe’s operates a service called The Circle targeting expectant moms (thus, taking a page out of the Philips and American Well virtual care playbook.

Duffy and Lee conclude their essay with a statement that might sound counter-intuitive: “clinicians and systems that lean in toward this change rather than resist it may find that it deepens their partnerships with patients. Patients who find their needs being addressed simply, quickly, and efficiently will know that if the system requires and in-person visit, it’s doing so because of necessity.”

The authors know that patients, humans, are evolving as Homo informaticus: multi-channel, multi-screen and –platform consumers many of whom are also “Amazon-primed” for service and immediate (or near-immediate) gratification. Trust is bolstered through respect, and Duffy and Lee are spot-on about the role that virtual care can play to build stronger clinician-patient relationships.