Dr. Iltifat Husain’s physician take is at the end of this article

Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) of Tennessee has joined several healthcare organizations now offering telemedicine apps. We recently wrote about how Hospitals were partnering with American Well to make telemedicine apps. In this case, Blue Cross is partnering with MDLIVE, a telemedicine company, to create a mobile app called PhysicianNow for eligible insured members. Like most other telemedicine services, PhysicianNow is designed to provide non-emergency care and claims it is “an ideal alternative to the urgent care facility or in-office doctor’s appointment.”

PhysicianNow offers consultations with board-certified physicians 24/7 by phone, smartphone, or secure online video. It will also sync a patient’s height and weight with the Apple Health App. The telemedicine app’s interface is user friendly, with icons on the Welcome page for: See a doctor, My health, MDLIVE assist, Message center, Symptom checker, and My accounts. Like many other telemedicine apps designed to engage patients with their healthcare providers online, it provides photos and names of the physicians available on the service, and lets patients know whether they are immediately available for online visits by video or phone.

BCBS of Tennessee isn’t the only Blues group interested in telemedicine apps. Starting in 2016, BCBS of Texas has also engaged the services of MDLIVE to provide a telemedicine app to select employee groups. And the Blues are joining several other health insurers that are beginning to realize that there’s cost savings to be had in encouraging members to stay away from emergency rooms and urgent care centers whenever possible. UnitedHealthcare has decided to expand its coverage of virtual physician visits, and Cigna has been offering MDLIVE services to some customers since 2013. Similarly Anthem now offers its members a LiveHealth Online app to connect patients to physicians who offer online services.

Of course, providing telemedicine apps has its challenges, for both private insurers and Medicare/Medicaid beneficiaries. In the latter case, it involves several telemedicine rules that must be followed to obtain reimbursement for services rendered.

Dr. Iltifat Husain’s take:

I continue to be impressed by the volume of telemedicine apps being produced by large health organizations. Since these telemedicine apps can incorporate data from your iPhone’s Apple Health app, I would not be surprised to see health insurers create comprehensive health apps that have a component of telemedicine within them, not for treatment, but for prevention. For example, if they see your weight is increasing substantially or activity levels are suddenly off — they could reach out and intervene before the issue becomes a problem.


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