Sophie guides patients through the registration process for making a digital doctor visit.

Virtual medical and behavioral healthcare provider MDLive has made it easier for patients to access telehealth services with the introduction of Sophie, a digital personal health assistant. An artificial intelligence-based chatbot that is part of MDLive’s platform, Sophie guides patients through the registration process by first asking a series of questions to open an MDLive account. Next, Sophie walks patients through the steps to download the MDLive app. Once downloaded, the MDLive app helps patients determine whether scheduling a virtual or in-person visit with a healthcare professional is necessary.

Chatbot’s are computer programs that simulate conversation with human users through digital devices such as Apple Inc.’s Siri and Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa. What separates Sophie from those chatbots is that it was created specifically for the healthcare market, as opposed to general purpose use, says Randy Parker, founder and chief business development officer for MDLive.

That point of differentiation will enable MDLive to create more personalized experiences for patients using its app in the future. “Healthcare has not been that successful in providing the kind of consumer experiences that are disruptive,” Parker says. “Sophie helps make the interaction with the patient more personable and we are taking the first step in that process by removing the clunkiness of registering for virtual care.”

Healthcare has not been that successful in providing the kind of consumer experiences that are disruptive.

To create patient awareness about Sophie, health insurance carriers and plan providers offering MDLive as a covered benefit will provide a unique access code which they can text to initiate contact with Sophie, Parker says. Consumers can access MDLive through a variety of ways, including the app, online or by calling the number on the back of their insurance card to be connected with the virtual health network call center.

Several health plans offer MDLive as a covered benefit including Cigna and Humana. Walgreen’s Co., which operates more than 370 healthcare clinics, has integrated MDLive into its mobile offerings. MDLive, which has more than 20 million members, has the ability to process claims from all health plans, regardless of whether they participate with MDLive or not, Parker says.

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When patients schedule an appointment with a provider, MDLive checks the patient’s benefits eligibility and co-pay in real-time. The cost of an appointment with a physician for patients with a covered benefit can range from $0 to $49, depending on the health plan, Parker says. Patients without a covered benefit are charged $59. The out-of-pocket cost for patients without a covered benefit scheduling an appointment with a behavior health professional is $99.

MDLive has more than 1,800 board-certified doctors and licensed therapists in all 50 states that provide virtual medical, behavioral and dermatological care. Patients can access care through MDLive around the clock, seven days week.

A few weeks prior to introducing Sophie, MDLive began offering virtual dermatology services for self-paying consumers. The cost of a virtual visit for a non-insured consumer will be $69. The service will be available to consumers with health plans starting January 1, 2018.

To offer the service MDLive has partnered with Iagnosis, a network of board-certified dermatologists trained to diagnose and treat more than 3,000 medical conditions affecting the skin, hair, and nails. Dermatologists will also be able to conduct spot checks for individuals concerned about suspicious spots or moles on their skin.

Once registered with MDLive, patients selecting the dermatology option will be taken to the partner site powered by Iagnosis and asked to provide a brief medical history, describe their condition, and send a few photos of the affected area of their skin, nails or hair. Patients will receive a diagnosis and treatment plan in about 18 hours, on average.

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