InteractiveMD launches the telehealth era

There is now a critical mass of competitors fighting for the telehealth market, enough that vendors are ready to differentiate.

With today's launch of InteractiveMD's consumer service, the telehealth era has begun in earnest.

It's not that the Boca Raton, Florida-based offering is Earth-shattering. It's not.

American Well, among others, offers similar services -- a video chat with doctors, a link to the pharmacy, an Electronic Medical Record (EMR).

But with Intel and GE hard at work on telehealth plans, with Cisco's Connected Health underway with United Health, there is now a critical mass of competitors fighting for the market, enough that vendors are ready to differentiate.

So I was most interested in talking with PR and branding manager Alex Price about business models, and he treated this difficult question like a hanging curve right over the plate.

"70% of issues can be addressed without the physical touch of a doctor," he said. So InteractiveMD has a direct-to-consumer model, with families able to have an online consultation with a real doctor for just $40, with a $25/month subscription fee.

But that's just one revenue stream. "In the fall we'll announce partnerships with insurance organizations, employee benefit organizations and others." This can both save carriers money and improve their service, by catching problems earlier, when treatment costs less.

"In the next year or two we want to build out specialty networks, outside primary care, in areas like dermatology and weight loss. We could refer to those networks, which will give us some quality control," Price added.

Of course there are limits to what you can do on a phone call, even with a trained physician. InteractiveMD is looking to sell all sorts of gear -- digital stethoscopes, EKGs, otoscopes, blood pressure monitors -- people can use from home, transmitting the data, assisting in their own care.

The idea, said medical director Kevin Friedman, is to take a full history, and do a basic work-up, then get the patient where they need to go, empowered with the right data and questions. "We don't make any definitive diagnosis," he said.

But they can make referrals. Doctors can suggest possible treatments, strategies, specialists, and those detail men going in-and-out of my doctor's office aren't doing it for the aerobic workout.

There are many, many ways to both save money for patients and make money for the site, along with ethical and technical minefields to be cleared along the way. InteractiveMD says they're up for the challenge.

All of this will require a lot more technology on the back-end. You may be excited about the face-to-face interview with a real doctor, over your own Internet connection, but most of the business (and revenue) will come from scaled systems behind that call, supplementing it.

"We're already looking at phase two and phase three back-ends," Price promised. "It's going to be robust. You can put your wellness life into a single portal, just as you do your social network."

Let the market, and the saving, begin.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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