KAISER PERMANENTE: Insurer to Launch ‘Ambitious’ Online Plan
In a "big step" for Kaiser Permanente, the insurer intends to unveil an "ambitious online plan" within the next year that will allow its eight million members in 11 states and the District of Columbia to make appointments, refill prescriptions and receive health information online, the San Francisco Business Times reports. Initially, Kaiser customers will be able to make appointments, refill prescriptions and choose providers online, while the system will eventually allow members to view personal health records and send email to their providers. Over the last four years, Kaiser has spent $25 million developing the project and will spend another $25 million over the next six years to expand it. The task is large for Kaiser, as like most large insurers, it "has trailed the digital revolution badly." Larger companies have had "more difficulty" in developing their online presence, the Business Times reports. Specifically, the companies encounter the "sticky issue" of combining old and new electronic storage systems and making them "safe and available." Hospital consultant Wanda Jones said insurers' move to the Internet "is an extremely strong wave for the future. This is an [attractive] market for Kaiser ... and it allows HMOs to get labor substitution because the patients can do some of these things. It's a perfect thing for the Internet and the customers are ready" (Doherty, San Francisco Business Times, 10/23).
New Online Pharmacy
In other eHealth news, Birmingham, Ala.-based International Pharmacy Management is launching a Web site to allow patients to refill prescriptions online, the Birmingham Business Journal reports. IPM officials said that the company already has more than 250,000 members using its mail-order prescription drug services. Last year, the company reported sales of more than $30 million. While online customers initially will be limited to refilling prescriptions, eventually the company plans to fill first-time prescriptions electronically, according to Greg Stein, vice president of sales and marketing. The site also will include information on FDA drug recall alerts (Park, Birmingham Business Journal, 10/16).