The Avatar will see you now

January 23rd, 2009 | Sources: NY Times

Subjects: ,

American Well, a Boston-based start-up that facilitates Internet-based physician “house calls” went live on Jan 15 with its first customer, the Hawaii Medical Service Association.

The archipelago’s sole Blue-Cross Blue-Shield licensee in turn plans to assure the service is available to every state resident, including those who are uninsured.

The service should appeal to those who don’t want to wait to see a physician or waste time commuting to the doctor’s office. It seems particularly well suited for patients needing medication refills or a look-see following surgery, and for elderly folks who are comfortable with computers.

Hawaii seems an ideal first venue for American Well’s online doctor service because island geography frequently complicates access to providers, and because the state lacks providers in remote areas.

During the encounter physicians can, ideally, access patients’ medical histories. For example, a patient using Microsoft’s HealthVault personal medical record can permit the physician to access the information.

Some worry what will happen because physicians can’t detect or assess physical findings using the new medium, but Robert Sussman has been trying it for awhile and has some perspective.

“It’s a tool to help doctors do better, the way a stethoscope is a tool,” he told the New York Times. “You still have to use your common sense.”

And at times it can facilitate triage decisions better than a phone conversation. Physicians for example, can see whether a febrile infant is lethargic and hence needs to be seen or is alert and thus may not have to come in.


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