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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

E-mail program lets patients, docs chat

Physicians can write electronic prescriptions
Andrea Tortora
Courier Staff Reporter



Some Tri-State patients will soon be able to chat with their doctors through secure e-mail platforms under a new pilot program.

Greater Cincinnati Associated Physicians and Catholic Health Care Partners -- parent company of Mercy Health Partners -- inked a deal with RelayHealth Corp., which provides online health care communication services.

The move will improve patient access to doctors, said Pamela Zipperer-Davis, CEO of the 37-physician GCAP. "If you are a patient of ours and want to talk to your doctor or get lab results by e-mail, you can do that," Zipperer-Davis said. "For doctors, this allows us the opportunity to move to a more efficient way of handling the voluminous amount of calls and paperwork we get."

GCAP will pilot the service for a year with Humana and UnitedHealthcare patients from four of its offices.

RelayHealth, based in Emeryville, Calif., offers Web-based services that connect patients, physicians, insurers and pharmacies. Patients can consult with doctors on nonurgent health concerns through a "webVisit." Physicians can write electronic prescriptions and send them to nearly any pharmacy in the country. Patients can receive lab test results, schedule or cancel appointments and request a referral.

Patients also can create an online health record and access reviewed medical articles through their personal RelayHealth Web page. For physicians, RelayHealth offers additional software to speed workflow in the office.

Eric Zimmerman, a RelayHealth senior vice president, said the service also can save time and money. "If a doctor's office is normally in the habit of calling patients with lab results or stuffing envelopes, here is an efficient way to get results out," Zimmerman said. "The service can also reduce the telephone tag of scheduling, and webVisits can free up a doctor's schedule for patients with more acute needs."

The RelayHealth service costs $50 per doctor in a single group. Larger physician groups receive a discounted rate. Zimmerman said RelayHealth now has contracts with 15 physician groups and counts 5,000 doctors in its network. RelayHealth also allows physicians to get reimbursed for consultations they provide through the Web-based service, Zimmerman said.

The company recently signed a contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield in Massachusetts and is in negotiations with Cincinnati health insurers. Zipperer-Davis said she is hopeful that Humana and UnitedHealthcare will agree to reimburse GCAP physicians for the Web-based consultations after seeing the pilot project's results.

The RelayHealth contract is a natural extension of what HealthBridge -- Cincinnati's health information network -- is trying to accomplish, said Robert Steffel, executive director. "Our niche is getting the data in a discreet, standard format from hospitals to doctors," Steffel said. "The next issue is how often is it appropriate to take that data from the doctor and get it to the patient?" The new service will greatly benefit patients with chronic conditions who manage their health at home, Steffel said. For those patients, being able to get their data and track it really helps.

An independent study of RelayHealth's usage, completed by the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University, found that patients had quicker access to their doctors and fewer health care costs. Conducted from June 2000 to May 2002, the study reviewed claims data for 5,727 patients.

Patients who used the RelayHealth study were 50 percent less likely to report missing work because of illness, 45 percent less likely to have visited the doctor and 36 percent less likely to have telephoned the doctor's office.

Rebecca Sykes, chief information officer with CHP, said RelayHealth's services go beyond basic e-mail. "For many routine, nonurgent matters, time can be saved and satisfaction increased through online communication," Sykes said.

CHP hopes to use the service with additional physicians once a trial period with GCAP is completed.

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