Backers say virtual doctor visits can save money and ease the shortage of primary-care physicians. But some of those doctors fear the skimming of profitable, easy patients.
Virtual doctor visit services -- which connect patients from their homes with physicians whom they meet via online video or phone -- are moving into the mainstream, as insurers and employers are increasingly willing to pay for them.
In the latest sign, WellPoint (WLP), the nation's second-biggest health insurer, plans to offer a new service in all of its employer and individual plans that will allow people to consult with physicians on-demand, using laptop webcams or video-enabled tablets and smartphones.
The insurer says the video consults will appeal to clients looking for "convenience and accessibility of care," said Ken Goulet, executive vice president.
But such services -- which backers say can save money when they avoid costly emergency room trips -- are generating tension with some state regulators and doctor groups. They argue that the remote visits can make sense when a patient is communicating with his or her regular doctor, but care may suffer when patients are connecting with a physician who may be in another city or state.
Western regulators may be treading lightly with their antitrust probes to prop up the search giant as a stalwart in the global fight over Internet freedoms.
That's because the allegations of Google's antitrust violations were serious.
First, its use of patents obtained when it acquired Motorola Mobility was abusive. The Motorola patents dealt with essential mobile-phone functions, licensed under terms of of the Fair, Reasonable and Non Discriminatory (FRAND) standards.
Hollywood's own online video service has been no match for its rivals. Now its owners are under pressure to pony up more money to expand the service.
As Amazon.com (AMZN) and Netflix (NFLX) battle it out for dominance in online video, owners of the much smaller Hulu, Hollywood's own online video service, are under pressure to decide which direction to go.
Jason Kilar, the chief executive of Hulu, has asked the site's owners -- Walt Disney (DIS), Comcast (CMCSA) and News Corp. (NWSA) -- for about $200 million to fund more program purchases and an overseas expansion, according to people familiar with the situation. That is roughly twice the amount they contributed this year, one person said.
The request to sink more money into the unprofitable, 5-year-old venture has put the spotlight on differences between Disney and News Corp. -- the two voting partners -- over Hulu's business model, which involves both a free service and a fledgling subscription offering. (For regulatory reasons, Comcast, the majority owner of NBCUniversal, can't vote its stake.)
For now, these machines are helping workers, not competing with them. But that could change as faster processors and improved sensors enhance robots' capabilities.
The robots are coming. Resistance is futile. From car factories to microprocessor plants to fulfillment warehouses, a single robot can now handle tasks that once took hundreds of man-hours to complete. This relentless march of automation is causing economic upheaval. As time goes on, companies will become more productive and more efficient, but the amount of human labor required will decrease, as will paychecks. The sentient worker will be reduced to a relic of a simpler age.
This is what we've been told, anyway.
To some economists, stubbornly high unemployment rates in the United States and Europe are at least partly attributable to the rise of machines.
The photo-sharing site, which hoped to make money from pictures that users post, has dropped a plan to sell those images to advertisers.
Facebook (FB), known for upsetting users with constant changes to its policies, has another headache to deal with.
Instagram, the photo-sharing site Facebook acquired earlier this year, planned to change its terms of service as of Jan. 16 to allow photos to be used in advertisements on Instagram and, potentially, on Facebook. Under the change, the photographer wouldn't receive compensation, while Instagram and Facebook would.
Instagram users were justifiably outraged, and some deleted their accounts. The backlash forced Instagram to beat a hasty retreat; it decided not to grant itself permission for royalty-free use of its users' images in advertisements.
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