The Oxford Dictionary defines a paradigm shift as “a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.” Such a shift is exactly what’s happening with UnitedHealth Group‘s UnitedHealthcare app. The new UHC app includes access to on-demand virtual physician visits. Virtual Visits under the UHC program last about 20 minutes, during which physicians can diagnose non-emergency conditions and, if necessary, prescribe medications and send the prescriptions to the patient’s preferred pharmacy.

We’ve written about virtual doctor’s visits previously, most recently covering CVS’s MinuteClinic Virtual Video Visit expansion. So, what’s the fundamental change with the UHC program? Here’s a clue from the article about CVS’s video visits, “CVS does not currently accept insurance coverage for Video Visits but expects to add insurance coverage in the near future.”

The big shift is patients and physicians who participate with UHC Virtual Visits needn’t be concerned about insurance coverage because an insurance company provides the service.

It’s a bit of a shift for CVS (a retail pharmacy) to provide customers with medical care. Put another way, while pharmaceutical industry influences last-mile product delivery, insurance companies still have an oversight role even with the CVS virtual healthcare model.

The UHC Virtual Visits program obviates the issue of insurance company approval. From UHC’s point of view, Virtual Visits for minor conditions are a slam dunk money-saver for all involved. According to UHC’s own data, about 25% of emergency department visits could be handled with a Virtual Visit. The average cost of similar, non-severe visits is $740 at an emergency department and $50 for a Virtual Visit, again citing UHC’s figures.

Telehealth is a field that is expanding rapidly and changing as it grows. As payers get more involved in delivering healthcare services, systems that close the feedback loop can reward approaches that deliver better outcomes at lower costs.