In a pandemic-driven world, health-tech has become a prominent player on a stage where the ravages of COVID-19 have spared few. It’s created a perfect storm that spurred legislation for reimbursement for virtual provider visits, loosened restrictions for physicians treating patients across state lines, and shelter-in-place orders that kept most people confined to their homes. In the eye of that storm are companies like Amwell, a telehealth provider working hard to scale up their services in the face of unprecedented demand.
Dr. Ido Shoenberg was on a trip to Shanghai in January 2020 when he first heard reports of the novel coronavirus appearing in Wuhan – more than 500 miles away. As co-founder and CEO of Amwell, he understood that virtual patient visits could soon become a critical tool for care if the virus continued to gather strength and increase its reach. He wasn't wrong.
“Picture a tidal wave,” Shoenberg said when asked to describe the recent surge in business. "The past two months have accelerated telehealth by more than two years. We intend to build upon this momentum to transform healthcare with digital care delivery."
In a way, Ido and his sibling Roy have been preparing for this moment their entire lives. Israeli-born and medically-trained, the Shoenberg brothers are entrepreneurs who have always challenged themselves to find new ways fir technology to improve healthcare. They started and sold various health-tech companies before founding Amwell in 2006. They intended to connect all the stakeholders in the system, and the telehealth company was their way of accomplishing that goal.
Based in Boston, Amwell sets itself apart from the competition through its technology. In addition to video conferencing solutions, providers can also receive clinical data through connected devices located in the patient’s home – such as a blood pressure cuff or thermometer. The service is set up so that anyone can sign into the company's website and pay for a digital urgent care appointment at $69, without insurance. For those with insurance, the company has already signed deals with some of the largest health plan providers, including UnitedHealthcare, Anthem, and several Blue Cross Blue Shield plans.
It hasn’t been a smooth ride for the firm. Shoenberg reported that March was a little “tricky” for the company, as the sudden hoard of providers and patients at the proverbial gates led to some long delays and crashed calls. The company has since received $194 million in funding to help them scale up both staff and IT resources, and it couldn't come at a better time. Amwell is seeing an average of a 1,000 percent jump in visits with some regions coming in at 3,000 to 4,000 percent.
Some have raised questions about the future of telehealth once the worst of COVID-19 has been contained. Others, like Shoenberg, believe that telemedicine has become too mainstream since surging up from 10 million to 100 million a year. In his opinion, there will be no going back. “The toothpaste is out of the tube; the genie is out of the bottle; however, you want to say it," he said. "I think we have arrived at a true inflection point."