Google Helpout Pioneer: One Medical Group

Last week, Google introduced Helpouts, a video-chat platform that allows for the exchange of free or paid advice or instruction using video chat technology. Verified instructors or providers are able to interact with clients to teach a new skill, offer advice — or even provide a medical consultation.

Google has taken several steps to make the new service appealing to healthcare providers — the Helpouts support HIPAA compliance, and currently, the transaction fee levied on other Helpout sessions is waived for healthcare services.

San Francisco-based One Medical Group, a large primary care system with offices in several major cities, is one of the first providers to offer healthcare services through the new Helpouts. One Medical currently offers a variety of telehealth services, including providing triage services over the phone and through email with additional care services available through an online member portal and a mobile app.

The Helpouts will expand One Medical's offerings to include video-based medical advice consultations, nutrition consultations, mental health counseling and wellness coaching. Medical advice services are free for One Medical members, and prices vary for the other services.

According to One Medical CEO Tom Lee, MD, the services will focus on conditions best managed through phone and video communication, including colds, rashes, allergies and general medical advice, and will be limited to care for patients in locations where One Medical practitioners currently practice.

"Our primary focus with this program is to make high-quality healthcare more affordable and accessible for patients," says Dr. Lee. Offering online services through the Helpouts help advance One Medical's mission to "thoughtfully use information technology" to provide the most appropriate care in the most appropriate setting, he says.

Telemedicine is increasingly seen as an appropriate care delivery vehicle and has enjoyed a recent spike in popularity among both providers and patients. A recent Health Affairs study found up to 12 percent of care could soon be delivered remotely as more providers begin to adopt the necessary technology.

It only seems natural, then, that technology companies would begin to expand into the growing area and lure customers by partnering with well-known providers. In a blog post, Udi Manber, vice president of engineering at Google, touted One Medical's reputation as a draw to the Helpout platform for customers, calling One Medical "a brand you already know and trust."

It seems natural as well, says Dr. Lee, for providers like One Medical to partner with companies like Google whose brand recognition and expansive customer base provide new and innovative ways to connect with patients and provide care. "Healthcare will continue to be delivered by healthcare providers," he says. "But our technology partners and vendors will likely evolve as they continue to provide more effective, secure and affordable ways to connect with our patients."

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