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American Well Deal Adds Remote Physical Exams To Its Offerings

Posted on December 9, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Telehealth provider American Well has partnered with a vendor allowing patients to conduct and transfer data from their own basic physical exam during telemedical consults.

The partner, TytoCare, offers an “examination platform” allowing patients to do their own medical examination of the heart, lungs, abdomen, ears, throat, skin and temperature at home, then share the information with the clinician before or during their virtual visit.

Tyto’s consumer platform TytoHome, which is priced at $299, combines a digital stethoscope, otoscope, thermometer and examination camera. The company also offers a model, TytoPro, designed for professional use, which offers extended battery life, a headset for listening to heart and lung sounds, initial set of disposables for the otoscope and tongue depressor, and software designed specifically for clinician use. The company doesn’t say what the Pro technology costs.

Tyto’s software platform, meanwhile, offers cloud-based secure digital exchange of clinical data and a clinical repository. The company says it can integrate with most EHR systems as part of its TytoLink integration services. It doesn’t say what those integration services will cost, but it seems likely that they don’t come free.

At least at the outset, the partners plan to deliver services to health systems and employers, but without a doubt plans to scale beyond this. And they’re likely to have the resources to do so. American Well has established a foothold in telemedicine, while Tyto Care has received over $19 million in funding to date from investors that include Walgreens.

It’s worth noting at this point that TytoCare is far from the only player in the market offering remote examination tools. For example, I’m familiar with at least one vendor, MedWand Digital Health, offering a similar bundle of remote examination technologies. The MedWand platform lets consumers measure their heart rate or pulse or pulse ox level, listen to their heart, lungs or abdomen, look into their mouth, throat and ears, examine their skin and take the temperature. It can also integrate with other remote monitoring tools, such as connected glucometers of blood pressure monitors. It sells for $249.

And MedWand, like TytoCare, has venture backing, in this case from a technical partner. The company recently received a “major” investment from the venture arm for Maxim Integrated Products, which designs, manufactures and sells semiconductor products.

In my opinion, however, American Well may have a meaningful advantage over other competitors, as it appears to have fairly strong connections with health plans and health systems. The telehealth vendor has partnerships with more than 170 health plans and systems, and has created an enterprise telehealth platform designed to connect with providers’ clinical information systems.

While a company like MedWand may be better position to scale up a consumer technology offering — given backing by a semiconductor maker — over the near term I’d argue that better to be on good terms with those delivering and financing care. Right now, my guess is that very few consumers are willing to sink almost $300 into a home telehealth platform, even if they occasionally use telemedicine services, but this seems little doubt that health systems and health plans see the value of offering such services in a sophisticated way.

If I were either of these companies — or one of their competitors — I’d try to employers, health plans and health systems to buy and place the devices in the homes of chronically ill or high risk patients. But I don’t know if that’s in their plans. Let’s see how the next 12 months go.

One Example Of An Enterprise Telehealth System

Posted on August 30, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

While there’s a lot of talk about how telehealth visits need to be integrated with EMRs, I’m not aware of any well thought-out model for doing so. In the absence of such standardized models, I thought it worth looking at the approach taken by American Well, one of a growing list of telehealth firms which are not owned by a pre-existing provider organization. (Other examples of such telemedicine companies include MD Live, Teladoc and Doctor on Demand.)

American Well is now working with more than 170 health plans and health systems to streamline and integrate the telehealth process with provider workflows. To support these partners, it has created an enterprise telehealth platform designed to connect with providers’ clinical information systems, according to Craig Bagley, director of sales engineering for the firm.

Bagley, who recently hosted a webinar on EMR/telehealth integration for AW, said its system was designed to let providers offer telehealth consults labeled with their own brand name. Using its system, patients move through as follows, he said:

  • First, new patients sign up and enter their insurance information and demographics, which are entered into AW’s system.
  • Next, they are automatically connected to the provider’s EMR system. At that point, they can review their clinical history, schedule visits and get notifications. They can also contact their doctor(s).
  • At this point, they enter the telehealth system’s virtual “waiting room.” Behind the scenes, doctors can view the patients who are in the waiting room, and if they click on a patient name, they can review patient information collected from the EMR, as well as the reason for the visit.

Now, I’m not presenting this model as perfect. Ultimately, providers will need their EMR vendors to support virtual visits directly, and find ways to characterize and store the video content generated by such visits as well. This is becoming steadily more important as telemedicine deployments hit their stride in provider organizations.

True, it looks like AW’s approach helps providers move in this direction, but only somewhat. While it may do a good job of connecting patients and physicians to existing clinical information, it doesn’t sound as though it actually does “integrate” notes from the telehealth consult in any meaningful way.

Not only that, there are definitely security questions that might arise when considering a rollout of this technology. To be fair, I’m not privy to the details of how AW’s platform is deployed, but there’s always HIPAA concerns that come up when an outside vendor like AW interacts with your EMR. Of course, you may be handing off clinical information to far less healthcare-focused vendors under some business associate contracts, but still, it’s a consideration.

And no matter how elegant AW’s workaround is – if “workaround” is a fair word – it’s still not enough yet. It’s going to be a while before players in this category serve as any kind of a substitute for EMR-based conferencing technology which can document such visits dynamically.

Nonetheless, I was interested to see where AW is headed. It looks like we’re just at the start of the enterprise-level telemedicine system, but it’s still a much-needed step.