Why Telemedicine Is Ready to Blossom
“Telemedicine may just be the biggest trend in digital health in 2015,” wrote Skip Fleshman, partner at Asset Management Ventures, in an article for Forbes. He noted that in his work, he has spent “a lot of time crisscrossing the country chatting with leading healthcare providers and insurers about their technology needs…by far the area they are most interested in is telemedicine.” According to Fleshman, Andrew Watson, the chief medical director of telemedicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, has this to say: “Telemedicine is moving like lightning. We’re able to do so much more than before.”
Susan D. Hall of FierceHealthIT, based on Fleshman’s article, picked out four reasons why telemedicine will trend in 2015. They are:
• Faster Internet connections and better software provide a better video chat experience than in the past;
• With mobile devices, people can consult a doctor from anywhere;
• The adoption of electronic health records makes it easier for doctors to access patient records;
• Patients are comfortable with asynchronous messaging, which can be more time-efficient for doctors.
Fleshman noted that in the beginning, it was thought that the convenience brought on by telemedicine and technology “would appeal mostly to younger patients, who expect to be able to access services on the Internet, and it does.” However, he points out that “the area where it will have the most impact may well be with older populations.”
In his report, Fleshman noted that Dr. Steve Ommen, associate dean at the Center for Connected Care at the Mayo Clinic, expects older patients to be enthusiastic adopters. “The fastest-growing demographic for social media is the 60-plus group. They are not technology-averse, and they have the greatest mobility challenge in terms of getting to a doctor. A telemedicine solution may be exactly what they need,” Ommen said.
Stephanie Ocano of Healthcare Global notes the key role technology will play in connecting doctors with their patients. “Thanks to startups like Doctors on Demand, Medicast and Twine Health, consumers are already being allowed direct access to doctors through their smartphones. In the future, providers may partner with platforms such as these to connect their doctors with patients,” she wrote. “Additionally, these apps could be offered through employers or insurance companies to help reduce costs or improve the quality of care. Telemedicine has the capability to not only become an investment opportunity, but a trend that can improve the doctor-patient relationship as well.”
As for the cost, since providers are now “increasingly being paid for outcomes rather than procedures, they are incentivized to provide care in the most efficient way possible, and telemedicine is cheaper than in-person care,” noted Fleshman. “And, with Medicare and Medicaid beginning to cover not-in-person consultations, reimbursement for telemedicine is also becoming more mainstream.” Indeed, Richard A. Kimball, Jr., CEO of HEXL, concurs, stating: “The era of preventive medicine and home healthcare monitoring is on the rise. The full integration of telemedicine in our healthcare delivery system is not far off as developments in technology continue along with the improvements in reimbursement.”
“Telemedicine is becoming a hugely popular healthcare product and a great way to connect doctors and medical facilities with patients. Although many people are still not familiar with its application or availability, the medical community is acutely aware of the cost savings and efficacy of providing direct access between the healer and the sick,” Greg Donahue of benefitspro pointed out. “As a matter of fact, according to a report from the Healthcare Performance Management Institute in 2013 attributed to the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey 2006 (August 2008), 70% of physician visits and 40% of hospital ER visits can be handled by a phone call.”
“As more individuals obtain health insurance due to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the debate about how to provide greater access to care at a reasonable cost becomes ever more relevant,” wrote Donahue. “Now telemedicine is emerging as a crucial building block in the delivery of care according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Telemedicine also allows individuals to take greater control of their ailments, which is a way for patients to self-manage their condition.”
Richard A. Kimball, Jr. is a financial executive with deep proficiency in the healthcare industry and experience in capacities such as investment banking, venture capital and public policy. He is currently a Fellow in Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute and building a healthcare technology start up HEXL.com. Richard graduated from Yale University with a BA in Economics.