Sentara teams up with Florida ‘telehealth’ provider

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Norfolk-based Sentara Healthcare has taken an equity stake in Florida “telehealth” firm MDLIVE and plans to use its technology to offer 24/7 medical consultations in Virginia by telephone and online video.

Beginning in October, Virginia consumers using the service will be able to discuss their medical issues with Sentara physicians or MDLIVE doctors licensed in the state.

MDLIVE plans to use the arrangement with Sentara as a prototype for a national expansion of telehealth services.

“Health care is changing due to a variety of factors, including advances in digital technology, physician shortages, increased access to insurance and high deductible plans, decreased reimbursement and patient population management needs,” Sentara CEO David Bernd said in a statement. “This collaboration expands access to care to hundreds of thousands of residents in our core and neighboring markets as well as offers them an alternate delivery option.”

Bernd said that, by having an equity stake in MDLIVE, “we become not just another client, but rather a partner focused on paving the way for future advances in virtual health-care delivery.”

In a telephone interview with reporters, Randy Parker, CEO of Sunrise, Fla.-based MDLIVE, said Sentara’s equity share was “significant,” but he declined to give any specifics.

He said that a MDLIVE call would cost consumers $45 each if such calls are not covered by their health plans. Otherwise, he said, the out-of-pocket expense would be determined by the health plans’ co-pay fee.

Sentara, a not-for-profit health system, operates more than 100 health-care sites in Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. The system includes 10 acute-care hospitals, including seven in Hampton Roads and one each in Prince William County, Charlottesville and Harrisonburg.

Sentara said physicians will use MDLIVE to diagnose “low-acuity illnesses,” such as allergies or a urinary tract infection, and provide treatment, including prescriptions. MDLIVE has electronic connections to more than 60,000 pharmacies.

Sentara employees and members of some of the company’s Optima Health commercial insurance plans also will be able to use the telehealth service as an additional benefit in 2013.

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