NU Online News Service, Sept. 29, 2004, 4:01 p.m. EDT

Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, New York, is working with a California company to encourage doctors and patients to communicate through the Web.[@@]

Empire, a unit of WellChoice Inc., New York, has agreed to pay doctors $20 for “Internet-based medical visits” conducted using a medical communication system run by RelayHealth Corp., Emeryville, Calif.

The RelayHealth system asks each patient a series of questions about any symptoms or other health care concerns, then gives the physician a report on the answers. The system also checks member eligibility, calculates co-payments and coinsurance rates, and submits claims to health plans.

Patients also can use the RelayHealth system to get normal lab results, schedule doctor appointments and request referrals.

In addition to getting $20 per visit from Empire, participating doctors will get a $5 co-payment from plan members, Empire says.