The Doctor's Office -- Obsolete?

Certainly not yet, but today online healthcare reached a milestone with the announcement that American Well — a start-up whose technology allows patients and doctors to connect live in realtime via two-way Web video, chat or telephone — is partnering with OptumHealth, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group that serves 60 million customers across the US.

Regional Blue Cross Blue Shield companies in Hawaii and Minnesotta already offer their customers online care using American Well’s technology, but the OptumHealth partnership marks the first nationwide online service.

A recent Gartner Predicts report estimated that “by 2013, 25 percent of patient encounters in North America, Western Europe, and Asia/Pacific that could be conducted virtually, will be.” The response of OptumHealth’s consumers to the online offering will be an interesting reality check to that prediciton.

Will patients feel comfortable meeting with their doctor via Web video? Are they happy to trade the intimacy of the exam room for the convenience of a virtual visit? And how will the technology-mediated interaction change the patient/doctor relationship? We’ll soon find out.

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