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Innovations change the doctor's office visit

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Until a few years ago, few would have believed that wholesale change in the health care environment would manifest itself in something as fundamental as the doctor-patient relationship. However, as e-mail and other Internet technologies have become more widely adopted -- by health care providers and those for whom they care -- some innovative minds have found ways to bring doctors and their patients together online.

Blue Shield of California is conducting a pilot program to determine the feasibility of online communication between doctors and patients. Working with RelayHealth, Blue Shield of California chose a select population of members to participate in a program that provides a secure, Internet-based service that allows patients to consult with their physicians through an interactive, online clinical interview process for non-urgent health issues. Members can also use RelayHealth to request prescription refills, schedule appointments, obtain lab or test results, request referrals, and update information on their allergies, medications and medical conditions.

A team of researchers from Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley recently studied Blue Shield's collaboration with RelayHealth. Survey results showed that members in the RelayHealth program were 50 percent less likely than those in the control group to report having missed work due to an illness. Nearly 80 percent found RelayHealth easy to use and convenient compared to calling the doctor's office. There were financial benefits as well: physician office visits cost $1.92 less per member per month, while total health care spending averaged $3.96 less per member per month.

Most of the doctors surveyed rated RelayHealth as satisfying (63 percent), easy to use (72 percent), and easy to integrate into their daily routine (55 percent).

Blue Shield of California is evaluating these findings to determine the feasibility of offering to its entire membership this innovative tool that could affect the future of doctor/patient online communication.

Submitted by Blue Shield of California

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