American Well Teams with Minnesota Firm to Offer Online Medical Consultations Directly to Consumers

It’s been almost a year since Boston-based American Well unveiled its online healthcare marketplace, a system designed to allow health plan members to connect with doctors or other medical providers live over the Web without having to visit an office or clinic. It’s an idea that could simplify healthcare access and reduce costs for both consumers and providers. But adoption has been slow: so far, only two state health plans (the Blue Cross/Blue Shield franchises in Hawaii and Minnesota) have hired American Well to implement the service for their members.

Now American Well has struck a deal that could help it leapfrog the painstaking, state-by-state process of signing up large health-plan customers and expand its business much faster. In a joint announcement this morning with Golden Valley, MN-based OptumHealth, American Well said that it will combine its secure Web communications platform with OptumHealth’s technology for delivering information about individual patients to healthcare providers. That way, any health plan, employer, or medical practice that uses OptumHealth’s platform, called eSync, could potentially give its patients or employees the ability to connect with physicians for real-time online conversations.

“The collaboration between OptumHealth and American Well marks a milestone for the health care industry and will improve access to care for millions of Americans,” American Well CEO Ido Schoenberg said in this morning’s announcement. “At a time when the country is seeking ways to improve health care delivery and reduce costs, OptumHealth is leading the way by making on-demand medical services available to consumers and employers nationwide.”

It’s not clear yet how the integration of OptumHealth’s patient information system and American Well’s online care platform would work, or whether the service will be limited to consumers whose health plans or employers are already customers of OptumHealth. So far, the companies are only saying that the service “will be available to employers, their employees and individual consumers.” The announcement calls the service “the first nationwide service allowing individuals immediate access to physicians and clinicians”—but also says that it will be rolled out “on a state-by-state basis.” We hope to get clarification from American Well later in the day.

The two companies made the announcement this morning at the annual meeting of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a trade group for private healthcare providers, in San Diego. OptumHealth is a unit of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH), a multi-state managed care provider that has one of the nation’s largest patient pools.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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