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Sentara Healthcare Takes Equity Stake in Telehealth Vendor MDLIVE

August 21, 2012
by John DeGaspari
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Norfolk, Va.,-based Sentara Healthcare, a 10-hospital healthcare system in Virginia and North Carolina, has signed a deal with telehealth firm MDLIVE, Sunrise, Fla. Sentara says the partnership will devlier real-time medical consultations to patients with an established regional network of physicians, available via telephone and online video throughout the state of Virginia. The deal also gives an equity stake in MDLIVE.

Patients will be able to use the MDLIVE virtual consult platform to consult with physicians who will diagnose low-acuity illnesses such as allergies or urinary tract infections and provide care, including prescriptions. The service will launch to consumers in Virginia beginning in October (it is currently available to consumers through MDLIVE.com). Sentara employees and members of selected Optima health commercial insurance plans will receive the service as an additional benefit over the course of 2013. Sentara has 24,000 employees.

In a conference, Ken Krakaur, senior vice president of Sentara Healthcare two different groups of physicians will provide virtual consults: physician from Sentara’s medical groups and those from the MDLIVE physician network.

John Scully, an MDLIVE board member and former CEO of Apple, said the telehealth, which will be delivered via phone, video conference or mobile devices, will be “disruptive” in reducing the costs to the patient, while giving the consumers a role in selecting their health services and expanding the capability of Sentara’s integrated healthcare network. He says the deal with Sentara will serve as a “proof point” to expand the telehealth service nationally by adding more hospital systems. He says MDLIVE is taking a three-prong approach: partnerships with hospitals, self-insured employers, and going directly with consumers.

Randy Parker, CEO of MDLIVE, declined to the exact amount of Sentara’s equity stake, but said the hospital system will have a dedicated seat on MDLIVE’s board of directors, with a total of six members. He said Sentara will also provide guidance of the company should expand the national network of virtual care, integrated into health systems in every state. MDLIVE was formed in 2006, focused on building a telehealth network; its initial focus was the self-insured market. Parker said the provider's equity stake “allows us to be in alignment with Sentara.”  He said the partnership provides a blueprint that will enable a health system inside a community to be able to offer care and referrals for treatment when required.

MDLIVE has a network of board certified physician and pediatricians, and operates in all 50 states, according to Parker. In the Sentara model in Virginia, those network physicians will be operating and providing service through the Sentara physicians or the MDLIVE physicians in the state of Virginia. Where appropriate, patients will be referred to a Sentara facility. Parker described MDLIVE’s role as an “empowerer” on a national brand level, which will involve exclusive partnerships on a national basis, to provide a footprint across the country to provide a telehealth solution to the greatest number of patients.

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