Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota expects in 2010 to expand its benefits by offering online, real-time, face-to-face consultations with physicians.

The Blues plan will use the online consultation technology of American Well, a Boston-based software vendor. The plan this year will test the consultations by making them available to its 10,000 employees and family members at the company's campuses in Eagan and Virginia, Minn. It intends to offer the service to employer groups and other consumers in 2010.

Details of how the service will be offered and the cost to users have not been finalized. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is the second Blues plan to adopt the technology.

The Hawaii Medical Service Association went live with online consultations in January. The consultations, called Online Care, are available for all residents of the state. HMSA members can have a consultation for $10; the fee for nonmembers is $45.

American Well has integrated Online Care with the personal health records software and related tools of Microsoft Corp.'s HealthVault consumer health service. This will enable consumers to maintain their personal information and share it with the consulting physician and other providers.

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