WellPoint to cover virtual doctor visits

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The chance that patients can virtually see a doctor--and have that visit paid for by their insurance company--has just dramatically increased. WellPoint, the second largest health insurer in the country, plans to include coverage for such telemedicine services in all of its employer and individual plans, reported The Wall Street Journal.

WellPoint's telehealth program, LiveHealth Online, will allow its members to connect with their doctors using a webcam, video-enabled tablet or smartphone beginning in 2014. It plans to launch the program in California and Ohio early next year and then roll the service out to its remaining 12 states by the end of the year.

The virtual doctor visits should appeal to employers and individuals looking for "convenience and accessibility of care," WellPoint's Executive Vice President Ken Goulet told the WSJ.

Initially, members can consult with their doctors using only webcam video, but WellPoint plans to add smartphone and tablet capabilities soon thereafter. Members will have access to these virtual visits every day between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. and will owe roughly the same copayment as for the live in-person visit.

WellPoint's virtual doctor visit program is the latest and most significant sign that payers are moving toward telehealth, albeit slowly. Some payers, such as Aetna and UnitedHealth, provide virtual-visit services only as an option for certain employers. And Highmark launched a virtual physician visit pilot program in April for about 10,000 of its members at three Western Pennsylvania companies and one company in West Virginia, FierceHealthIT previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the Wall Street Journal article (subscription required)

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