Telemedicine News: The Virtual Doctor is In; New Pilot Program Launched

Telemedicine News: The Virtual Doctor is In; New Pilot Program Launched

Telemedicine News: The Virtual Doctor is In; New Pilot Program Launched

Telemedicine–the remote delivery of healthcare clinical services and clinical information using telecommunications technology such as internet, wireless, satellite and telephone media[1] is becoming a significant, rapidly growing component of US healthcare. For instance:
·      More than 200 telemedicine networks are in place, with 3,500 service sites in the US.
·      Nearly 1 million Americans are currently using remote cardiac monitors
·      Veterans Health Administration in 2011 delivered over 300,000 remote consultations using telemedicine.
·      Over half of all U.S. hospitals now use some form of telemedicine.
·      Globally, millions of patients use telemedicine to monitor their vital signs, remain healthy and out of hospitals and emergency rooms.
·      Consumers and physicians download health and wellness applications for use on their cell phones[2].
·      For hospitals, telemedicine is a way to cut costs while delivering convenience and time-savings to patients.

Telemedicine is also a boon to rural or impoverished pockets of the world, where disease is prevalent, doctors are scarce, and health care infrastructure is inadequate. Telemedicine is an innovative solution that connects the developing world to the resources of the developed world. For more, visit the link, “Telemedicine in Developing Countries: Challenges & Successes,”

Telemedicine isn’t new. So why is adoption expanding now?
·      Maturing Technology. Technology that enables virtual consults has matured to the point where providers can offer patients a reliable experience
·      Faster Internet. Faster Internet connections and better software facilitate far smoother video chatting, and can be enabled equally via the home desktop computer, laptop and from mobile devices.
·      EMRs. The ability to access electronic medical records (EMRs) has helped to enable telemedicine adoption. When the provider has the patient’s electronic medical record, that captures the patient’s history, adverse events and previous consults, it’s just like taking a call in a doctor’s regular practice, but with better information.
·      Asynchronous [not real-time] Telemedicine[3]. Telemedicine usually refers to the real-time [synchronous] digital communication of medical information – real-time video consults, accessing medical records, viewing/analyzing remote procedures, etc. Telemedicine has expanded to include asynchronous[4]messaging. A single doctor can now advise many patients on routine issues, freeing up more time to focus in-person on more challenging cases.

According to a recent Forbes[5]article, “…there is demand to harness the capabilities of these technological innovations. In the last few years, more and more patients have increasingly looked to retail pharmacies in their neighborhoods for routine healthcare services because it’s more convenient than visiting their doctor. The logical next step is that they won’t have to leave their homes at all.”

From the provider’s perspective, the biggest telemedicine hurdle is the financial incentive: figuring out how to cover the cost. With Medicare and Medicaid beginning to cover not-in-person consultations, reimbursement for telemedicine is also becoming more mainstream[6].

For one (of many!) examples of a telemedicine pilot program, see press release below. This two-year pilot will assess how health care providers treat patients with select health conditions, using video visits. For example, some may use it for check-ins to monitor recovery from concussions, others may use video visits for wellness coaching, to follow up with patients on certain medications, or to check-in after a procedure or hospitalization to monitor recovery and help prevent rehospitalizations.

Press Release Follows.


You May See Your Doctor Now…From The Comfort Of Home
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and American Well’s new pilot program makes virtual doctors’ visits a reality

BOSTON, March 11, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is partnering with American Well® on its new telemedicine program, WellConnection. The pilot program enables select patients to engage with their health care provider through online video, instead of going to the doctor’s office.

Health care providers in the two-year pilot will assess and treat patients with select health conditions using video visits. For example, some may use it for check-ins to monitor recovery from concussions, others may use video visits for wellness coaching, to follow up with patients on certain medications, or to check-in after a procedure or hospitalization to monitor recovery and help prevent rehospitalizations.

“Massachusetts is known for its innovation in the health care sector and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is at the forefront when it comes to telehealth,” said Ido Schoenberg, MD, Chairman and CEO of American Well. “Blue Cross is giving its health care providers an innovative tool that provides patients with access to care outside an office setting – including in the convenience of their own homes.”

The WellConnection pilot launches with two physician groups from Blue Cross’ Alternative Quality Contract (AQC), Emerson Physician Hospital Organization (Emerson PHO) and Lowell General Physician Hospital Organization (LGPHO), as well as dedicated Blue Cross nurse care managers. The AQC is an innovative payment model that promotes quality and rewards physicians and hospitals for positive health outcomes. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the AQC has improved the quality of patient care and lowered costs in the four years since it was first implemented.

WellConnection Benefits
   Easy access to patients’ own clinicians via laptop, smartphone or tablet
   More efficient care and increased convenience for patients
   Avoidance of unnecessary trips to the emergency room
   Convenient in-home medication management and adherence guidance
   Improved post-surgical outcomes
   Better integration of behavioral health and primary care

“We are always identifying ways to make it easier for our patients to receive the best medical care,” said Dr. Gregory Martin, Chief Medical Officer of Emerson Hospital. “We are excited to have several physician practices pilot WellConnection to deliver care in the most convenient way for our patients. Leveraging the latest technology enables us to be accessible to patients in particular, well-defined circumstances – even when it is not easy for them to visit the office. All they will need is a smart phone, tablet or desktop computer and they can have a valuable visit with their provider through the power of telemedicine.”

Mill City Medical Group, Ltd (MCMG) of Lowell and the office of Damian Folch, MD of Chelmsford are the participating practices for Lowell General Physician Hospital Organization. Emerson PHO is identifying its participating practices.

“We are very excited for the opportunity to be on the forefront of embracing new technology and piloting telemedicine in our offices,” said Dr. Pauline Tsirigotis, LGPHO Medical Director and physician at MCMG. “We will be able to evaluate firsthand the adoption of telemedicine, the ease of use for our physicians and patients, as well as any impact on the quality of patient care as the telemedicine program gets implemented this March.”

“Telemedicine enhances my ability to reach out to my patients and help them in their quest for health and wellness,” said Dr. Folch. “This is another way in which Blue Cross continues to empower patients to take care of their health in a completely different and expanded way.”

“The value of telemedicine will be fully realized when physician, patient and health plan goals are aligned – which is why we are offering this program with select physicians in our Alternative Quality Contract (AQC),” said Gregory LeGrow, Director of Network Innovation at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.  “These health care providers are already making great strides in this area to improve patient care outcomes.”

About Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts ( is a community-focused, tax-paying, not-for-profit health plan headquartered in Boston. We are the trusted health plan for more than 30,000 Massachusetts employers and are committed to working with others in a spirit of shared responsibility to make quality health care affordable. Consistent with our corporate promise to always put our 2.8 million members first, we are rated among the nation’s best health plans for member satisfaction and quality. Connect with us on FacebookTwitterYouTube and LinkedIn.
About American Well
American Well is a telehealth services company that brings healthcare into the homes and workplaces of patients. The Company’s web and mobile telehealth platform connects patients and clinicians for live, clinically meaningful visits through video, supplemented by secure text chat and phone. American Well, Amwell, and Amwell Therapy Associates are trademarks of American Well Corporation in the United States and other countries. All other trademarks used are the property of their respective owners. For more information, visit
About Emerson Hospital 
Emerson Hospital is a multi-site health system headquartered in Concord, Mass., with additional facilities in Sudbury, Groton and Westford. The 179-bed hospital provides advanced medical services to more than 300,000 individuals in 25 towns. To learn more, visit
About Lowell General Physician Hospital Organization
The Lowell General Physician Hospital Organization (PHO) is a non-profit organization comprised of approximately 350 member physicians and our hospital partner, Lowell General Hospital. The PHO was established in 1995 with the goal of developing a local, integrated delivery system providing outstanding quality care to patients in the Greater Lowell area.
Media Contacts: 

Jenna McPhee, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts     

Catherine Anderson, American Well

SOURCE American Well
CONTACT: Jenna McPhee, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts,, 617-246-7412; Catherine Anderson, American Well,, 802-793-4914

About the Author
Deborah Kaufman is a healthcare communications professional, and is interested in all things healthcare. Find her online at:
Twitter @debhealthcare

[1] SOURCE: American Telemedicine Association,
[2] SOURCE: Ibid, American Telemedicine Association
[3] SOURCE: Asynchronous Virtual Patient Visits Can Streamline Workflow; HealthIT Outcomes [Kern, Christine: May 14, 2014  (
[4] SOURCE, Majerowicz, Anita; Tracy, Susan. “Telemedicine: Bridging Gaps in Healthcare Delivery.” Journal of AHIMA 81, no.5 (May 2010): 52-53, 56.Citation: [Back in 2010], as a condition of payment, CMS requires that the provider of telemedicine use an interactive audio and video telecommunications system that permits two-way, real-time communication. Asynchronous, or “store and forward,” applications do not meet the definition of telemedicine (for the definitions of each, see the sidebar below). Per CMS guidelines, asynchronous technology is permitted only in federal telehealth demonstrations programs conducted in Alaska or Hawaii.
Interactive versus Asynchronous Systems
Interactive audio and video telecommunications system: real-time interactive video teleconferencing that involves the live presence of the provider and patient in an interactive environment. The provider actually sees the patient, so that two-way communication (sight and sound) can take place. In addition, documents, computer-displayed information, and whiteboards can be shared.
Asynchronous, or store and forward, applications: the use of a camera (e.g., audio clips, video clips, still images) to record (store) an image that is transmitted (forwarded) to another site for review at a later time.
[5] SOURCE: “Why Telemedicine’s Time Has Finally Come,” [Author: Skip Fleshman
Partner, Asset Management Ventures], Forbes:1/13/2015
[6] SOURCE: American Telemedicine Association,|Citation Does Medicare or Medicaid pay for telemedicine services?
Medicare: Yes… in certain circumstances.  Many “telehealth” services, such as remote radiology, pathology and some cardiology, are covered simply as “physician services.”  For traditional fee-for-service beneficiaries living in rural areas, Medicare covers physician services using videoconferencing. The ~14 million beneficiaries in Medicare Advantage (managed care) plans, have complete flexibility in using telehealth, as long as their provider offers the service.  ATA is pushing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, and Congress to removing the arbitrary restrictions that limit telehealth coverage, so that all beneficiaries can get this great benefit.  ATA has a white paper explaining coverage details in Medicare. 

Medicaid: Almost every state Medicaid plan specifically covers at least some telehealth services, however states vary greatly in their coverage.  State-specific information is available on www.atawiki.organd the 50 State Telemedicine Gaps Analysis: Coverage and Reimbursement. ATA has challenged each state to fully cover telemedicine to increase coverage while simultaneously reducing service costs.
Do private insurance plans usually cover telemedicine services?
22 states and the District of Columbia require that private insurers cover telehealth the same as they cover in-person services.  Many other insurers cover at least some telehealth service–and many more have expressed interest in expanding their telehealth coverage. To find out if your insurance company covers telehealth services, please contact your benefits manager. 

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