- Close to 200 hospitals in 29 states are gaining access to one of the nation’s largest telehealth platforms, in a bid to move primary urgent care out of the ED and online.
Boston-based American Well has announced a contract to extend its VirtualHealth Now service to hospitals operated by Community Health Systems. The CHS-affiliated Rockwood Health System in Spokane, Wash., and the 10-hospital AllianceHealth Oklahoma network will be the first to offer primary urgent care services via smartphone, computer or tablet, with health systems in Pennsylvania and Arizona following suit in a few months.
The partnership adds a new layer to CHS’ already-robust telemedicine platform, enabling hospitals to create a virtual ED that can handle primary care services after hours and on weekends. Studies have shown that some 75 percent to 80 percent of ED visits could instead be handled by telemedicine.
"Healthcare consumers increasingly are seeking care that is easier to access and more convenient,” Lynn Simon, MD, C chief quality officer and president of clinical services for the Franklin, Tenn.-based network, said in a press release. ‘In a highly connected and mobile world, it makes sense for us to leverage technology to deliver non-emergent care directly to patients in a manner they prefer."
The partnership continues a trend for American Well of offering provider-facing services. Where the company first partnered with payers, health plans and large businesses to provide telehealth services through its Amwell app for members and employees seeking a consult from home or the workplace, it’s now forging alliances with health systems to help them improve their ED services. Via the VirtualHealth platform, health systems can offer 24-hour-a-day urgent primary care services, using locally based physicians.
The urgent care ecosystem is a busy place these days, populated not only by the likes of American Well, Teladoc, Doctor on Demand, MDLive, Consult A Doctor and TruClinic but also by health systems like UPMC who’ve created their own platforms in a bid to reduce expenses and waste in the ED, easily the busiest and most overcrowded department in the hospital.
The American Medical Association, noting the telemedicine market is expected to grow from roughly $1 billion in 2016 to $6 billion by 2020, endorsed the use of remote monitoring and delivery of services at its June 2014 annual meeting. Also last year, the American Telemedicine Association, recognizing the trend, developed practice guidelines for live, on-demand primary and urgent care.
“(F)or us, without having the bricks and mortar, and all of the additional staff that go along with the visit, it’s certainly a lower-cost alternative to emergency room visits,” Matt Levi, director of virtual health services at Seattle’s CHI Franciscan Health, told the Seattle Times earlier this year.
CHI Franciscan Health’s Virtual Urgent Care program, Levi said, offers an immediate consult with a doctor for $35 per visit – and it has cut in half the number of times doctors have been woken in the middle of the night for an ER case.