Teladoc Sues Rival Over Hospital Robot Patents

Teladoc Health Inc.,


TDOC 7.20%

the country’s largest publicly traded telemedicine provider, has sued rival

American Well Corp.


AMWL 0.07%

for alleged patent violations related to technology behind robot-like carts that connect hospitalized patients with specialists in real time via video.

The patent-infringement suit, filed Monday in a Delaware district court, relates to nine patents Teladoc says it owns. The filing asks for unspecified damages as well as action permanently barring Amwell from the alleged infringement.

The dispute between the two remote-care companies comes as competition intensifies in a corner of the U.S. health-care system that has received a jolt from regulatory changes aimed at easing access to care during the pandemic.

A federal action that allowed remote-care visits to be reimbursed by insurers at the same rate as in-person visits drove record numbers of patients to connect with doctors via telehealth services and videoconferencing tools like Zoom. Remote-care visits are now used for primary and urgent care as well as to keep patients with mild Covid-19 cases out of hospitals or monitor those with severe cases who have been discharged and are convalescing at home.

Telehealth boosters say virtual visits, which many patients were slow to adopt before the pandemic, promise to extend the reach of doctors and specialists beyond their physical footprint, which may improve accessibility of care in remote places.

The patents at issue in the Teladoc suit stem from a company called InTouch Technologies Inc. that it agreed to buy in January. Acquiring the remote-care company helped Teladoc build out its ability to connect patients in hospitals with specialists using video screens mounted on carts that can be wheeled around health-care facilities.

For example, a doctor connected via video through a tablet mounted on a cart could oversee an exam in a hospital room while instructing a nurse or colleague to collect relevant treatment and health data—and also talk to the patient. Some of these robot-like carts include digital stethoscopes and thermal cameras.

Demand Surges for Telemedicine

Such services offer an opportunity for telehealth companies to forge new relationships with large hospital systems and can help those organizations expand their offerings.

“Our team is in the process of reviewing the allegations. We believe that these claims lack merit and intend to defend against them vigorously,” said an Amwell spokeswoman.

A Teladoc spokesman said the company is confident its rival is infringing on the patents in the lawsuit.

Teladoc facilitated 2.7 million visits in the quarter ending June 30, while Amwell’s platform enabled 2.2 million, according to regulatory filings. Neither company has yet achieved profitability.

Teladoc wrote to Amwell last month notifying the company that some of its products, including telemedicine carts, infringed on its patents and asked the company to immediately stop selling, making and using them.

The patents relate to products that accounted for about 5% of Amwell’s revenue in 2019, the company said at the time. It offers Carepoint kiosks and carts in settings like emergency rooms and health clinics that also connect patients with caregivers.

Write to Sarah Krouse at sarah.k[email protected]

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