Health

Verizon wants to power your virtual doctor visits

Health tech

Open up and say “ahhh” to your smartphone.

Verizon tonight announced the launch of a new mobile health platform, Verizon Virtual Visits, which will let you set up a quick virtual appointment with doctors using your smartphone, computer, or tablet.

With the new platform, Verizon claims its the first large company to enter the telemedicine market (at the time of this post, I haven’t found any examples to prove otherwise). It also fits right alongside Verizon’s moves towards exploring new markets — like ways to utilize its LTE network for connected devices.

Verizon Virtual Visits video chatVerizon will offer the Virtual Visits platform to healthcare providers, health plans, and employers, who will in turn offer apps powered by the technology to their clients. Many consumers likely won’t even know they’re using a Verizon-powered service. The service is also completely carrier agnostic — it doesn’t matter if you’re using AT&T or Sprint.

Apps using Verizon’s Virtual Visits technology will let consumers request a virtual medical session for acute conditions, like a cold, flu, or sore throat. Doctors can use the platform to electronically send prescriptions to the pharmacies of your choice, and they can also provide referrals if they think you’ll need more direct medical care. Pricing for the virtual visits is up to every provider, but Verizon expects it to cost less than a typical office visit co-pay.

Verizon is competing with several telemedicine outfits, including the newly launched MDLive. Julie Kling, Verizon’s director of mobile health, tells me the platform is different than competitors because it was built specifically to take advantage of mobile devices (others can work on mobile, but require you to be on Wi-Fi). It’s also easier for Verizon to offer a telemedicine service since its cloud infrastructure is already HIPAA compliant to handle sensitive patient records.

“When we built this, we initially thought it was going to be health plans who were interested,” Kling said. “But the Affordable Care Act has changed things … now providers and hospital systems, are looking for ways to make more revenue.”

Surprisingly, even retailers are interested in the service. Many pharmacies already offer clinics on-site — telemedicine seems like the next logical step.

Kling expects doctors to use Virtual Visits in a variety of ways. Some may block off a few hours every day for virtual visits, while others could be virtually on call. Clinicians will have to be trained to properly take advantage of telemedicine, but with just about every medical provider looking find new sources of revenue these days, it likely won’t be too tough to convince doctors to get trained.

Given that it typically takes new patients around 27 days to schedule an appointment with a doctor (according to the health policy journal Health Affairs), and many people also end up wasting time and money at the ER for acute illnesses, telemedicine services could do wonders to improve the speed and access of healthcare.

Verizon plans to announce its first customers for Virtual Visits in the next few months.