TELEMEDICINE IS GOING MAINSTREAM
The idea of telemedicine has been around for a long time. But in 2016, mainstream healthcare is finally ready to embrace it. In the U.S., the number of patients using telemedicine services is expected to rise to 7 million in 2018, up from fewer than 350,000 people using the technology in 2015. Telemedicine’s time has come. It’s already revolutionizing healthcare, and here’s why.
Consumers have been sending the message for some time that the main thing we want from the healthcare experience is convenience. Rather than schedule a doctor’s appointment for a flu shot, we head to the nearest pharmacy for our flu vaccination or take advantage of free workplace flu shot clinics.
Our lives are busier than ever, and we find ourselves less willing to wait for an open appointment and take time away from work, family and personal life to meet our healthcare needs. Also, technology has changed our expectations for the consumer experience in general. It has made our shopping and banking experiences fast and seamless, freeing up time for other things.
It’s also made things more affordable. Because virtual healthcare meets these consumer expectations, it’s no surprise that roughly 74% of consumers say they would use telemedicine services, and 76% say they care more about access to healthcare than face-to-face interaction with a doctor.
Paradigm shift in the provider community
There’s also been a big cultural shift in the provider community. Our population is growing, and it’s also aging. At the same time, there is an acute shortage of primary care physicians – the general internists, family doctors, pediatricians and geriatricians who diagnose and manage illnesses and help their patients achieve wellness through prevention.
Over the next decade or so, this shortage is expected to worsen, leaving Americans with a primary care physician shortfall of about 65,000 doctors. Telemedicine offers a solution that closes that gap and frees up the primary care provider’s time for more complex cases by treating certain types of illnesses that don’t require an in-office visit.
Rise of value-based care
The healthcare sector is shifting away from the fee-for-service payment model to one that ties payment to the trifecta of consumer satisfaction, quality and efficiency. Payers and providers alike are constantly seeking opportunities to reduce cost and risk while increasing quality and consumer satisfaction.
Enter telemedicine, which offers treatment for a variety of illnesses and injuries. It also costs significantly less for payers and employers to supply and for providers to deliver. And in many cases, telemedicine can even eliminate the need for urgent and ER care. In fact, almost 75% of all doctor, urgent care, and ER visits are either unnecessary or could be handled safely and effectively via phone or video.
For general health
This not only has the potential to reduce or eliminate the use of some of the costliest care, it also frees up provider time to focus on riskier, more complex illnesses and treat them more thoroughly.
The effect on population health is twofold:
- Patients with a need for high-touch care receive more of their provider’s attention and are treated more thoroughly.
- Patients who need single-episode care can access and receive the care they need quickly, affordably and conveniently without risking exposure to other illnesses or seeking more expensive urgent or ER care.
But telemedicine has also proven its mettle as a great care management tool for older, less mobile patients and those living in remote areas with less access to routine care.
For behavioral health
Behavioral health is another area of healthcare that virtual care delivery is transforming. Some of these patients live in rural areas that are “therapy deserts” with little or no access to this type of care. But even in large urban areas, patients often opt out of care due to time constraints, cost and transportation issues. An estimated 78% of these cases are treatable through virtual visits.
In short, by reducing or eliminating the use of costlier care, telehealth services produce an upward spiral of efficiency, quality and patient satisfaction.
The Removal of Legal Barriers
The legal community, often slow to respond to major trends, is acting quickly to remove barriers and create the legal infrastructure necessary to make this type of care available to more Americans. Last year, 29 states and the District of Columbia enacted legislation requiring insurers to cover telehealth services at equivalent levels to in-person care.
Not surprisingly, the states with the most remote populations are also the ones with the highest adoption rates. And many states are also creating legal pathways for multi-state provider licensing and credentialing to ensure that patients seeking virtual care also have access to quality care.
Technology catches up
Tying the telemedicine story together is the thread of technological advancement. The technology infrastructure is finally mature enough to make virtual healthcare delivery a satisfying experience for both provider and consumer.
- Internet connections are faster and more reliable than ever before.
- The patient experience can now be less disjointed and more “real-time” as well.
- Electronic health records are more available, and due to continuous advancements in cyber security, patients feel more confident that their privacy and their identities are protected.
- And the rise of mobile technology means that opportunities to seek care and receive treatment are basically anywhere and everywhere we as consumers choose.
The benefits of electronic care delivery ripple throughout every corner of the healthcare ecosystem. It’s not hard to understand why it’s one of the top healthcare trends of 2016. The return on investment for each stakeholder is nothing short of astounding.
Chuck Rolfsen is the Chief Revenue Officer for Healthx. The Healthx collaboration platform connects payers, providers, and members to lower administrative costs, improve member health and manage the healthcare ecosystem.