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Amwell CEO: Healthcare 'will never be the same after this pandemic'

Anjalee Khemlani
·Senior Reporter
·4 min read
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Telehealth has been one of the few sectors of health care that has benefitted from the pandemic, with lockdowns and restrictions forcing doctors and patients online.

And while the spike in usage from last year has leveled off, there is still room for growth, according to Amwell (AMWL) chairman and co-CEO Dr. Ido Schoenberg.

"Life will never be the same after this pandemic, in many ways, including health care," Schoenberg said.

Amwell, one of the largest telehealth companies in the country, went public in October, and sees virtual care as here to stay. It's why the company is launching its services through a new medium: TVs in hospital rooms.

Currently, telehealth use through a mobile app, cart, kiosk, laptop or tablet all require bringing something into the room with the patient. But the TVs are already in hospital rooms around the country, so adding a channel, and other features to go with it, is not a heavy lift.

Intermountain Healthcare, Amwell's partner in the program, was already using its TVs through an internal virtual care system, according to Brian Wayling, assistant vice president of telehealth services.

Wayling told Yahoo Finance the use of the TV kit started about 7 or 8 years ago, but has been especially useful during the pandemic to maintain a safe distance for COVID-19 patients.

"The software was developed originally using Skype ... and we perfected that with a pan-tilt-zoom camera, some specific directional microphones and high quality speakers. And that model has served us very well," Wayling said.

About 1,200 TVs used the software, and an additional 800 have been added due to the success of the program. But it's also a costly endeavor to operate in-house, which is why Amwell was brought on board.

"We had a large team working on all of this, and with the scale and scope that we were getting to at the time...the support of that on the back end becomes an immense task," Wayling said.

And while increasing the use and usability of telehealth services is an investment, it's a much cheaper option than building out a physical footprint.

"It still takes that leap of investment, just like any other business or model. When you build a new clinic, it's a 20- to 30-year capital investment. Brick-and-mortar continues to grow, at a little bit of a slower pace now. You can gain equal access, secure access and equal treatment opportunities for patients at fundamentally a lower investment cost to deliver that care," Wayling said.

Amwell is one of the largest telehealth companies in the country.
Amwell is one of the largest telehealth companies in the country.

That, Schoenberg said, is the goal: to have a democratized structure of care.

"It starts with a symptom, or a concern, you go (to the visit), you get different interventions to find the right diagnosis and you get a prescription or some kind of a care plan," Schoenberg said, adding the same happens with telehealth.

But with more technology, including artificial intelligence and greater data analysis, diagnosing symptoms can become dramatically more efficient. And looping in specialists from around the globe, as well as potentially family members, can create a much greater level of cohesiveness to the experience.

Amwell has spent $2 billion over a decade and a half building out its telehealth platform, including adapting to the needs of payors, providers and patients, Schoenberg said.

"The goal is saving a lot of money and improving the quality of care to many people," he said.

And reimbursement of virtual services is finally catching up, with more interest from government and commercial payors alike to pay for tele-visits. But how to share the payment among multiple doctors, particularly international consults, is as of yet, an unknown.

"It's absolutely not complete, but the trend is very clear that eventually they should be paid fairly for their time," Schoenberg said.

So could this use of TVs translate to, say, in-home virtual care?

"As you can imagine, televisions exist not only in patient rooms, they exist in other places in the world. But I cannot talk about that today, but that's part of the trend," he said.

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