Online doctor visit service goes live in Hawaii in January

December 24, 2008

Hawaii's largest health insurer is the first commercial health insurer in the U.S. to offer American Well's online medical visit service to its members.

Robert Sussman, MD, a family physician on the island of Oahu in Hawaii wasn’t dazzled by the bells and whistles of online medical visit service American Well.

Sure, he’s impressed that he will be able to see the patient he’s treating on American Well through their web camera (if they have one) and that they’ll be able to see him on his web camera. But what intrigues Sussman about the service, which goes live with more than 120 doctors in Hawaii on January 15 through the state’s largest health insurer, Hawaii Medical Service Association, is that he has the patient’s claims history with HMSA on the screen during the e-visit.

“For me, it’s no so much having a conversation with a web cam,” he says. “It’s the documentation and other stuff that makes it a medical visit in the more traditional sense.”

HMSA, a Blue Cross Blue Shield Association licensee, announced in June it would be the first commercial health insurer in the U.S. to offer the American Well service to its members. The member pays a $10 co-pay for the 10-minute maximum online visit and the physician receives $35 fee, with $10 deducted for American Well’s malpractice coverage and administrative costs. Online visits must last at least three minutes in order for the doctor to earn the fee, Sussman says, and the patient must be the one to end the call. The encounters can occur on a web camera, over the phone or through a text chat.

Sussman signed on because he wants his six-physician urgent care practice, The Medical Corner, which has five offices on the island, to offer around-the-clock care, he says. He’s not certain at which hours he’ll integrate the American Well visits into his practice’s schedule yet, but he predicts it will be during its non-business hours, after 8 p.m. and before 8 a.m. Patients can schedule an online appointment time with a particular doctor, or log-on and see any available physician.

Non-HMSA members in Hawaii will pay $45 for an online visit, with doctors still receiving the same $35 fee, but without the claims history available. Sussman hopes that American Well will offer the practice a steady revenue stream for small services, such as prescription renewals, routine follow-ups and general health questions, and others which it formerly handled over the phone without compensation.

“I’m excited about it,” he says. “If the docs can do it, the patients will do it.”