Kyle Vanhemert in Wired:
Talking to doctors via video chat is the future. Talking to doctors via text message is the even better future we should hope for after that. A new partnership between insurance provider UnitedHealthcare and three leading telemedicine companies will make virtual doctor’s visits a reality for many Americans. The insurer is putting telemedicine on par with a trip to the doctor’s office, effectively saying a video visit is as good as brick-and-mortar check-up. It’s a significant step into the future of healthcare, and it points to an interesting design challenge. Setting aside for a moment the complex thicket of regulations governing telemedicine: When it comes to staying healthy, what’s the ideal user experience? NowClinic, Doctor on Demand, and American Well, the companies partnering with UnitedHealthcare, focus on a fairly straightforward brand of telemedicine: Letting patients confer with doctors over video. Their apps aim to virtualize the doctor’s appointment as it’s existed for decades. There are reasons you might want that. Video visits can make quality health care more accessible to people in rural areas. For the rest of us, they may simply be more convenient. An on-demand video appointment means no leafing through germy back issues of People in a waiting room. Brian Tran, product lead for Doctors on Demand, says he wants patients to think of the experience as “FaceTime with a doctor.”
Still, this version of telemedicine isn’t as easy as pointing a web cam at a physician. “We want to balance the elegance of a consumer app with a real clinical encounter,” says Katie Ruigh, American Well’s VP of Product. By “real clinical encounter,” Ruigh means all the stuff that make you feel you’re in the hands of an expert: the formal setting, the white coat, the stethoscope in the pocket. Ruigh says American Well encourages doctors who work at home to create a suitable back drop for video appointments, even suggesting in some cases that they hang their framed diplomas on the wall within the frame. She also points out that American Well looks for “webside manner” when evaluating doctors; when you’re not meeting face to face, things like eye contact and attentive listening become more important to the overall experience.