The Online Healthcare Marketplace: Providing Physicians with a New Revenue Stream

If an online healthcare marketplace existed where consumers could have real-time consultations with physicians, the millions of healthcare consumers who are thirsting for online access to providers would be ecstatic. Would physicians?

“Healthcare is at least a generation behind the rest of society in terms of technology. Doctors and hospitals don't use the technology we take for granted everywhere else.” —David Merritt Director, the Center for Health Transformation

If an online healthcare marketplace existed where consumers could have real-time consultations with physicians, the millions of healthcare consumers who are thirsting for online access to providers would be ecstatic. Would physicians?

Well, suppose that online health marketplace also enabled medical professionals to extend their services at their discretion, from home or any other location, and add a new revenue stream … are you getting excited now?

If the standing-room only crowds at recent healthcare conferences is any indication, the answer is a resounding “yes.” And this month, all those ‘maybes’ noted above become reality when American Well Systems launches its new online healthcare marketplace.

“This is a whole new animal,” says Stephen Fischer, MD, a sole practitioner in Spring, TX and chief medical officer of Spring Medical Systems, an EMR vendor for small medical practices. “I personally think this is the future of medicine.”

The Future is Now

Roy Schoenberg, MD, is the CEO of American Well Systems and the inventor of the online healthcare marketplace product that uses the latest technologies in web communications and digital telephony to extend traditional healthcare services to the home setting. Beginning in June, American Well will sell the product to health plans, who in turn will brand it and make it available to their membership and provider networks.

“This system allows interactions to happen between the existing membership of health plans and the existing pool of providers that has already contracted with the health plan to deliver services to these members,” Dr. Schoenberg explains. “The only difference is that for the first time [members] will be able to do this pretty much online from home.”

But one of the more attractive aspects of the system, says Dr. Schoenberg, is that it is entirely at the discretion of the healthcare provider to determine how much, how often and when he/she would like to deliver services on the system. For example, a physician could log onto the system and indicate that they are available for as long or as little time as they would like. Doctors can log on through the web, or through their phone if they’re not in front of a computer.

No Paperwork Hassles

Dr. Schoenberg, who also holds a master’s in healthcare management from Harvard University, explains that today, physicians are forced to practice in a specific, physical location because of the many auxiliary services needed in order to provide medical care, such as a practice management infrastructure. “The whole financial processing of claims is a pain,” he says. But with the online healthcare marketplace, physicians no longer need to handle the two main sticking points for managing fees.

First, Schoenberg explains, physicians do not need to handle the copay retrieval from the patient. That’s because payment information has been received and checked against clearinghouses before the interaction is allowed to take place. “Physicians don’t need to know anything about it,” Dr. Schoenberg explains. “They’re just going to get paid.”

Second, the American Well product lives on top of the health plan infrastructure, including the claims and eligibility system, networks and benefits. “By the time we allow a consumer to interact with a provider, we have checked in real time both the eligibility of the consumer as well as the match of the provider network,” says Dr. Schoenberg. “So, by the point where the provider and the member come together, we have already submitted the claim automatically, and it is already adjudicated.”

Doctors will not be flying blind during these interactions. They will have access to a complete list of conditions, procedures and medications that relate to a specific patient. So, before providers even get into the conversation, they can decide if they feel comfortable handling the complexity of a given patient. In addition, through a partnership with the Lexington Insurance Company, the largest medical malpractice carrier in the country, providers can log onto the system and practice and deliver care knowing that they are covered as part of the American Well service.

New Opportunities for Physicians Dr. Fischer says he is looking forward to trying out the online healthcare marketplace, and he suspects many of his colleagues are as well. “For doctors, you could conceivably forget the office and just go online and see patients whenever you want.” And that’s exactly what physicians are saying as the launch of the online marketplace approaches.

“Physicians are telling us that, with the ability to practice on this system and generate revenue without having any kind of anchorage to a physical practice, they may stay home several days a week and practice using the system,” says Dr. Schoenberg. “Some physicians are telling us that this system will enable them to retire early. Others are saying they may come out of retirement to practice and generate revenue off this system.

“The bottom line,” adds Dr. Schoenberg, “is that the notion of freedom that this system brings to physicians is probably the most compelling thing for them. And they can change their lifestyle around it.”

Ed Rabinowitz is a veteran healthcare reporter and writer. He welcomes comments at edwardr@ptd.net.

30%Percentage of Americans who say they can get in to see their physician within the same day. (Commonwealth Fund, 2008)