Telemedicine, mhealth apps gain ground

New applications based on advances in telemedicine and mobile health technology are proliferating as pharmacy providers, physicians and health plans find new ways to connect with patients who are homebound or in remote locations. The result is to extend access to care, improve convenience and lower health delivery costs.

Drug chain innovators like Thrifty White have offered prescription dispensing and telemedicine services for years to reach patients far from a brick-and-mortar store with pharmacy services, using either a kiosk or a pharmacy technician linked in real time via a live monitor to a pharmacist at a “hub” location. More recently, advances in mobile health applications for computers, remote site kiosks and smartphones have extended the ability of pharmacies and other health providers to reach patients where they live and work.

This fall, telemedicine and mobile health, or mhealth, applications reached another crescendo. Walgreens’ Take Care Health Systems announced a new collaboration with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. Called 
OnlineCareNC, the new collaborative service allows BCBSNC members to receive a telehealth consultation from a Take Care nurse practitioner, health coach or nutritionist via two-way video, secure text chat or phone. 

Almost simultaneously, two other technology providers expanded their own mobile health commitments. SoloHealth unveiled plans to expand its FDA-approved SoloHealth Station health-and-wellness digital kiosks to more than 2,500 store locations by mid-2013 on the way to more than 4,000 locations by 2014. And kiosk maker PharmaSmart said it was partnering with the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Team Up. Pressure Down.” program to promote blood pressure management among patients with hypertension.

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