UPMC ramps up its telemedicine consultation service

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The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center continues to promote its service that offers patients consultations with physicians or nurse practitioners via secure electronic messaging technology.

Since rolling out a new platform for the service in November, UPMC says it has delivered 2,200 electronic visits on the platform, called AnywhereCare. About 10,000 patients have enrolled in the service.

With the kinks ironed out over the past four months, the organization is expecting rapid increases in use of the service, executives say.

The organization had a consultation program in place since 2013, but two years later, it realized that it needed a more robust platform capable of supporting real-time, 24-by-7 audio-visual consultations with patients via smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktop computers for non-emergency illnesses such as sore throats, upper respiratory illness, seasonal allergies and back pain, among other conditions.

In 2015, the organization selected American Well and built the back end for the new platform in 2016, going live in November. The service is available to individuals not aligned with UPMC for $49; and UPMC patients generally pay $10 to $20, depending on their insurance. Self-insured employers, for instance, may set a fee or set no fee, making consultations a free benefit for employees, says Kim Jacobs, vice president of consumer innovation at UPMC.

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UPMC has seen steady acceptance of the program since its inception. From 2013 to 2015, with the first version of the service, 8,500 consultations were conducted.

To ensure 24-by-7 coverage, Bruce Rosenthal, medical director of consumer telemedicine services, took on the task of engaging physicians and nurse practitioners and developing consultation schedules for them. Physicians take consultations during the day and nurses take them in the evening, he says.

Rosenthal says the organization advises patients to download the AnywhereCare mobile app and register ahead of time when they are healthy to speed up the process of getting care when needed.

With the launch of audio-visual consultations last fall came the realization that patients needed information on physicians doing the consultations, along with a photo to become more comfortable before the consultation starts. That seemed easy enough, Jacob recalls, but UPMC soon learned it needed a longer runway of preparation; he tells other providers who call for information about the project to make it “a nice long runway.”

That’s because the doctors and nurses all had to be scheduled for photos and a directory of clinicians for patients had to be developed. “That seems like a minor thing, but getting doctors to a photo session eats up a lot of time,” Jacobs adds. “You only get one shot at consumers and if they aren’t impressed they don’t come back.”

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