Verizon is taking another step into healthcare with the introduction Wednesday of its Virtual Visits program. The goal is to facilitate connections via phone, tablet or laptop between healthcare providers who contract with Verizon and their patients for what Verizon terms routine, urgent care.
An interested patient would boot up the system, have eligibility verified and copayment collected, and then be led through a series of questions. Depending on the answers, the patient would be triaged into the appropriate groups by a provider for a virtual video visit. From there, if, for example, a prescription is needed, a doctor would send it to the appropriate pharmacy.
Roughly $4.4 billion spent in emergency departments is for the routine, urgent care that the company thinks its service can address, said Christine Izui, the firm's quality officer for mobile health
solutions. An example would be a persistent cough, she said.
Verizon has yet to sign up customers for the new offering. It's targeting self-insured employers and integrated delivery networks. For the latter, it's possible that such integrated providers might want to use their own doctors and nurse practitioners; Verizon will accommodate that. Otherwise, the firm will provide access to a network of physicians it's already contracted with; Izui says Verizon has anticipated the need for a geographic spread of doctors, due to the difficulties posed by state licensure requirements.
Another challenge for Verizon will be interoperability. Izui says the firm has an “integration engine” that will help convey data generated during a virtual visit to a patient's provider. Additionally, patients can access that data post-visit, which she thinks will help address any problems. Still, the system can't yet handle gathering incoming information, meaning that it will rely on a patient's memory. But Izui anticipates the most important challenge will be cultural, that is, getting patients accustomed to the idea of video visits.
“It's a new product, and customers and patients need to get used to the idea of a video chat. I think when they do understand what can happen, and they can move with you, with your phone, I think there's going to be great uptake,” she said.
Verizon has experimented in healthcare before—the firm has Food and Drug Administration clearance for its Converged Health Management product, which collects biometric data from sensors and conveys it to providers. Follow Darius Tahir on Twitter: @dariustahir