Q: Is Google becoming a provider of health services?
A: One new Google product, “Helpouts,” allows consumers to search for clinical experts and then to video chat with those doctors. This project is in its final stages, and Google is working with some existing medical groups who are verifying the credentials of the doctors who are participating in the trial. The trial is limited to symptoms related to common conditions or diagnoses and a wide range of pediatric concerns. One pediatrician, for example, is available for free consultations with the goal of eliminating gaps created by isolated visits in favor of applied multidisciplinary expertise. Not all of the offerings are related to health care and not all of them are free.
Q: What’s the impetus for this expansion by Google and presumably other technology companies?
A: A consulting company, PWC, has referred to this trend as a move toward “… building a new health economy centered around the consumer.” Stated another way, there are patient needs to be met and patient populations to be built by providers. This is likely to bring new players into local, state and regional health care communities who may position themselves to receive revenue from shrinking health care dollars. For example, Walmart is experimenting with health conglomerate Kaiser Permanente to access physicians via Skype in two of its California locations. Providers who’ve petitioned the Department of Health and Human Services to allow Affordable Care Organizations to be reimbursed for “connect care” argue that it will improve quality and reduce costs. Providers participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program can’t currently bill for services provided using advanced technology.
Mary Holloway Richard is recognized as one of pioneers in health care law in Oklahoma. She has represented institutional and non-institutional providers of health services, as well as patients and their families. She also has significant experience in representing providers in regulatory matters.