TECH: Apparently there’s something called the Internet

The Web Returns to Health according to the Washington Post. Who knew? SCasedadly not too much in the story. WebMD is still around, Steve Case, Time Warner put money in to something called EveryDayHealth—not launched yet. Healthcentral is back; rescued by defense-contracting money-bags the Carlyle Group. All these guys are aping the mainstream health success of WebMD.

Not in the report but more interesting is the attempt by Healthline, and a host of others—and of course Google—to create health information search verticals, and then the coming attempt to get at consumer long-tail sites which several people have been writing to me about.

Finally, the most interesting development is the integration of this information with the actual health information of individuals—that’s the role of the emerging PHR movement, and that’s where the really interesting health web activity is going on. And one version of that is the combination of those records with physician communication systems. yeah, yeah, I know you’re expecting some crack about RelayHealth and it’s long slow evolution, but the fact that at least the service exists is finally making some news. Today it’s in the Wall Street Journal in the column by single-payer touting Dr. Benjamin Brewer.

We’ve had our Web site going for about a year now and while only about 50 of my patients have taken advantage of our online services, they seem to like them. Currently, my patients pay $30 upfront for virtual office visits with a credit card. The software on the Web site takes a systematic and thorough history for any of more than 3,000 different complaints. I review the information and decide who can be treated online and who needs a face-to-face visit. Patients who are referred for office care are only charged for the standard office visit.

The histories these patients generate via the Web site might sound like a waste of time, but they aren’t: They go right into their electronic medical records, so I have their information ready when they come to see me. Patients like not having to repeat the same story to the receptionist, the nurse and then the doctor. I like it because it saves me time and eliminates transcription costs related to summarizing and recording what the patient told me — instead, I can just add some nuances I picked up while talking to the patient, as well as a key note or two. Online patient registration and insurance updates are our most-popular Web-site features, followed by secure bill payment and prescription-refill requests. (We don’t charge for simple email questions or for processing refill requests.) Patients will soon be able to access their own lab results and review their records online.

And of course there is the minor issue of consumer convenience, and competition for it!

Meanwhile, retail health clinics are springing up in a lot of places. These clinics are dedicated to treating simple problems quickly, and they’re threatening to skim the easy patients and the easy money out of the office. For doctors, online visits are a way to keep this from happening. Two weeks ago I was in a CVS pharmacy in Seattle and noticed most Minute Clinic visits cost $59. My patients get online consultations for the same sort of problems for about half the price — and they get them from their own doctor.

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