The Doctor Will Ping You Now

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Wish you could talk to a doctor without schlepping all the way to a crowded doctor's office where you'll probably pick up even more germs?

If you live in Hawaii, you may be in luck.

Starting Thursday, the Hawaii Medical Service Association (HMSA) has launched a new program where patients can connect with doctors over a standard Internet connection or telephone. The service is available 24 hours a day to anyone in the state. Customers of the insurer pay $10 and non-HMSA members pay $45 per session. About 140 local doctors, including family physicians, cardiologists, ophthalmologists, pediatricians, psychiatrists and surgeons, have signed up to be available for questions.

"HMSA's Online Care is making Hawaii's health care system more accessible to patients by overcoming the constraints of time, distance, mobility, or lack of insurance," said HMSA Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Gold, in a statement. "Our state is an island community with many rural areas, and HMSA's Online Care will help improve access by connecting patients in those areas to physicians statewide."

HMSA, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association , noted in an online document that this is the first health plan in the U.S. to provide state residents with online service.

According to the health care association, Thursday's launch follows a "long period" of testing. Hundreds of patients have already tried out the service, HMSA noted. And 85% of participants reportedly said they had "favorable experiences" and "many" said they would routinely use the new service, the insurer said.

In related news, about a year ago Google Inc. ventured into the online personal health records business with a pilot project aimed at testing the exchange of patient data between the Cleveland Clinic and Google technology. In an effort to better handle patient data , Google teamed up with the clinic in an effort to enroll between 1,500 and 10,000 patients in the pilot project.

This story, "The Doctor Will Ping You Now" was originally published by Computerworld.

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