E-HEALTH: Blues to Offer Online Applications
The Sunnydale, CA-based eHealthInsurance.com is now a "dominant distribution channel" for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, reaching individual insurance applicants and increasing the turnaround time for approval. eHealthInsurance.com CEO Vip Patel said that his company will work with individual Blues plans to approve applications within 24 hours; conventional approval processes take up to 21 days. Patel added that the alliance could save plans "quite a bit of money" because eHealthInsurance.com eliminates data entry costs and paperwork. Jody Voss, the Blues Association executive director of business development, said the rapid approval process "improves plans' responsiveness to consumers" (Reuters Health, 11/30).
A new Web site called Pharmabid.com, launched yesterday by Orange County-based drug distributor Bergen Brunswig, will be the first to allow hospitals and physicians to bid against each other for pharmaceutical and blood products, the Wall Street Journal reports. Bergen Brunswig officials hope that by creating a national market, Pharmabid.com will alleviate the price spikes that accompany local shortages of products such as human plasma. Analysts say the site, which will also offer medical supplies, represents a "good niche opportunity" because of the high demand for blood products (Rundle, 12/1). Another new auction site, Medicine Online, will allow qualified surgeons to bid on prospective patients who've posted their requests for elective, non-emergency surgery, according to the Medical Tribune. After a customer visits the Web site and posts his medical background information and a description of the desired procedure, which may include cosmetic, podiatric or laser eye surgery, participating surgeons have 72 hours to post their fees and professional credentials. Patients can perform online background checks on the surgeons. A personal consultation between patient and surgeon is required prior to the actual surgery. The service, based in Huntington Beach, will be available Feb. 1 (Rustad, 11/30).
The Mayo Clinic Health Oasis Web site aims to make "the challenge to kick the tobacco habit ... one step easier." The site provides tools to build a personalized smoking cessation program, complete with support sources. Those logging onto the site also can "share [their] thoughts, frustrations and encouragement with others who are making the same healthy lifestyle choice" through the site's bulletin board (Mayo Clinic release, 11/18).
Individuals who believe they might be clinically depressed can begin evaluating themselves on the National Mental Health Association (NMHA) depression screening Web site, launched yesterday. Patients answer questions, print out their score and take it to a therapist. The site offers a database of hundreds of local mental-health associations across the country, a list of caregivers and links to groups such as the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers and the American Psychiatric Nurses Association. NMHA official Shela Halper said the site is "the first step in helping people get help." Not everyone is convinced; Robert Hsiung, a University of Chicago psychiatrist, said that it is not clear "how well you can initially assess somebody online. They can be slumped in a chair and crying, or they could be smiling. Medical conditions can influence mood." Moreover, patients concerned about confidentiality must be wary about entering unsecured mental health sites: NMHA Vice President of Health Care Reform Mary Graham said "[The NMHA] is really scared" that some sites may lack adequate privacy protections (Chase, Wall Street Journal, 11/19).