Sentara Healthcare and MDLIVE, a Florida-based tele-health company, have partnered to provide tele-health services in real time to patients throughout Virginia. Patients will have access to "virtual" medical consultations via secure telephone lines and online video, starting in October.
Characterizing the model as "unprecedented," representatives of the two companies announced Monday that the partnership is intended to address Virginia's projected physician shortfall, provide access to care for the growing number of insured under the Affordable Care Act, and to meet consumer demand for health-care access 24/7.
Officials presented it as a partial solution to spiraling health-care costs and a way to deliver quality care for less for "minor acute care conditions," such as upper respiratory tract infections, sore throats and ear infections. As many as 54 percent of much more expensive emergency room visits could have been resolved through a tele-health encounter, said Randy Parker, CEO of MDLIVE in a media conference call. Plans also call for it to be used as a screening tool to steer patients towards the most appropriate, least expensive care.
"We're working to get the patient the right care at the right time in the right venue," added Kenneth Krakaur, a senior vice president at Sentara, who has spent decades devising new ways to expand methods of delivering care to patients.
With an anticipated additional 300,000 to 400,000 Virginians expected to have access to care through health-care reform in 2014, the supply and demand are out of balance, he says. Parker believes that the tele-health partnership "can provide part of the solution when access to care is going to be so difficult,"
Acknowledging the advances in medical science and technology, John Sculley, an MDLIVE board member and former Apple executive, characterized the model as the next step in health care innovation. "Now we have an opportunity for the innovation to be focused on the delivery of health-care services," he said. "We're giving the consumer a choice."
Nationally, MDLIVE has three areas of focus for its tele-health services: partnering with hospital systems, such as Sentara; appealing to self-insured employers to lower their costs; and offering care directly to consumers.
"We live in an 'is there an app for that' world. We hope this technology will evolve so they can use a cell phone and an app — it opens up geographic boundaries," says Sentara's Krakaur.
Consumers will be able to pay for a "visit" out of pocket, $45, or the cost will be billed through their insurance carrier, if it covers the service. In January, Sentara's 24,000 employees will receive the service as part of their health benefits package.
Tele-health staff will consist of two groups of physicians, some from Sentara Medical Group and others from MDLIVE, which has been operating since 2006 and has several thousand available. Krakaur indicated that some of the doctors will be those nearing retirement who are looking to phase into part-time work; all doctors offering care in Virginia have to be board-certified and licensed in the state.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun