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Telehealth transformation will still take years despite pandemic boom, says Amwell co-CEO

Telehealth company Amwell made its public market debut Thursday after months of rapid growth because of the coronavirus pandemic. But co-CEO Ido Schoenberg told CNBC that the “enormous” digital transformation of health care remains a process that will take years.

“This giant surge in visits may not be continuing into the same pace, and we fairly expect it to go down for a little bit,” Schoenberg said on “The Exchange.” “Our goal is not to count visits. … Our main performance indicator is the number of active providers on our platform.” 

Schoenberg, who co-founded the company with his brother, Roy, in 2006, said bringing more doctors onto Amwell’s platform is critical because it’s important to provide patients with flexibility in how they receive health care. 

“We simply believe that, in the future, your doctor will connect with you sometimes in person and sometimes online,” he said. “It’s easy to explain to me, but of course it’s a different story to actually implement it. There are many barriers and complexities, which is what we do. That will take a long time.” 

Shares of Amwell were up more than 25% Thursday to almost $23 apiece in its first day of trading. Shares of Amwell on Thursday closed up 28% at $23.07 apiece in their first day of trading. The company, which also scored a $100 million investment from Google’s cloud division, priced its IPO at $18 per share

Based in Boston, Amwell has seen an explosion in users as the crisis kept people sheltered in place in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19. The entire digital health industry has seen an uptick in popularity during the pandemic. It also experienced a major development last month when Teladoc announced it was acquiring Livongo

Amwell posted revenue of $122.3 million for the first six months of 2020, up 77% from $69.1 million in the same period a year ago, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It recorded a net loss of $113.4 million in the first half of this year, widening from $41.6 million in the first six months of 2019. 

In April, as the pandemic was in full force, the number of active providers using Amwell’s platforms was nine times higher than the same month in 2019. 

While the usage of telehealth services may not remain at such elevated levels as the Covid-19 situation improves, Schoenberg said there are likely to be other changes from the pandemic that “are strong tail winds for the implementation of digital connectivity.” He pointed to efforts by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to expand telehealth benefits for Medicare beneficiaries. 

“We see more and more payment parity, which of course should be the method of paying doctor fairly for their time. There is no real difference if I meet my patient online or in office,” he said. “That’s really conducive to the model that we have created.”  

Schoenberg said the long-term vision of Amwell is one that makes it easier for people see a doctor whenever it is needed, especially as they get older. And, he said, the company is “patient enough to build the platform that will enable that enormous transformation.”

“Our goal is simply to allow our parents, grandparents, maybe ourselves, to age gracefully in our home and allow us to connect to the existing health-care system whenever possible. It’s not a doc in the box in the cloud,” he said. “It’s basically another tool in the tool set of our trusted providers, and that will take years to develop.”

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