Giant insurers are supporting efforts by RelayHealth Corp. to help patients consult with doctors through the Internet.

Aetna Inc., Hartford, has agreed to expand coverage for a physician-patient Internet communications program developed by RelayHealth, Emeryville, Calif., and CIGNA HealthCare, Bloomfield, Conn., a unit of CIGNA Corp., Philadelphia, has agreed to start a RelayHealth services coverage pilot program.

RelayHealth helps patients ask doctors questions through the Web and also gives patients the ability to get other types of information, such as lab test results, from doctors’ offices.

Aetna has been offering limited coverage for services provided through RelayHealth since 2001. Now Aetna will offer coverage for online consultations in California and Florida for all fully insured members whose doctors participate in both the Aetna and the RelayHealth networks. Self-insured employers can choose whether to provide coverage for RelayHealth sessions, Aetna says.

CIGNA will start testing RelayHealth services coverage through a pilot program in July, and it hopes to expand the pilot program to include a number of self-insured plans in Arizona, California, Florida and the New York area in 2007.