Connecting patients and physicians through technology

Published July 14, 2015

Have you ever used Skype® or FaceTime®? If so, you know just how close to a real conversation these video chats can be. People use video chat to keep in touch with family and friends – so why not use it to keep in touch with your doctor?

Seeing a doctor is often difficult for low-income people, who often lack access to travel to receive the care they need. Getting to the hospital or health center for an initial visit might be difficult, but coming back for follow-up appointments can be nearly impossible. Follow-up care might not seem as important as the first assessment, but it is vital to maintaining treatment and avoiding unnecessary hospital stays.

With the goal of improving access to care for low-income patients in the state, Blue Shield of California Foundation partnered with the Center for Care Innovations to fund technologies that enable patients to “see” doctors remotely. The technology was implemented at Petaluma Health Center (PHC ) in Western Sonoma County, where the center is lending smartphones to low-income patients to be used for remote “house calls.”

In response to growing readmission rates, PHC began testing the phones among high-risk patients to reduce confusion about post-visit self-care. For safety and security, the phones are limited to just one application, and can only be used to connect patients to their care team through audio and video. Prior to discharge, PHC staff lend the smartphones to patients and contact them within 48 hours to schedule a virtual house call. Calls are carried out the same way as normal in-office visits. In this way, the team is able to help the patient understand treatment plans, medications, diet, and other self-management instructions.

To learn more about how BCBS companies are using The Power of Blue to help improve the health of the communities we serve, download the full 2014 Investing in America’s Health report or visit


Skype® is a registered trademark of the Microsoft Corporation.  FaceTime® is a registered trademark of Apple Inc.