3 Points of Clarity in Telehealth Spur Adoption, Expansion
The healthcare industry has seen tremendous movement forward in telehealth. Six months ago Roy Schoenberg, MD, president and CEO of Boston-based American Well, a telehealth company, discussed three predictions for the future of telehealth in the U.S. healthcare industry.
The three predictions were:
• Governmental support and funding will continue to increase, aided by a clearer definition of telehealth, integration into accountable care organizations, Medicaid exemptions and state legislation.
• Practice management systems will add telehealth capabilities.
• Consumer demand will cause "main street" telehealth.
According to Dr. Schoenberg, progress in these areas thus far can be almost entirely attributed to greater clarity in telehealth.
1. Greater clarity in telehealth versus telemedicine. Frequently, telemedicine and telehealth are misconstrued as similar. The two technological capabilities are actually very different. Telemedicine is about connecting physicians so that those in rural areas can consult with physicians based in areas that are miles away. Telehealth uses the same principles but introduces the patient into the equation.
The healthcare industry has used telemedicine for around 30 to 40 years, but due to advancements in technology, not only have more hospitals, healthcare organizations and medical specialties adopted telemedicine technologies, but the entire healthcare world has welcomed the advent of telehealth as well.
"Telehealth is almost unanimously being seen as the thing that will move the needle on healthcare delivery in a more transformative way than telemedicine promised. We've anticipated it over the past few years, but now we are seeing it realized," says Dr. Schoenberg.
While telehealth used to be the little sister of telemedicine — what was considered a sophisticated technological infrastructure enabling physician-to-physician consultations — it has now eclipsed telemedicine.
"It is not so much about the technology being different or better. Rather, the utility of allowing physicians to extend the healthcare system into homes and other workplaces. It transforms care that has historically required a significant amount of overhead into care that is open and fluid," says Dr. Schoenberg.
2. Greater clarity in usability, possibilities for patient engagement. According to Dr. Schoenberg, greater clarity has increased around what telemedicine can offer the healthcare industry in terms of bringing healthcare into the hands of patients.
With patients, healthcare needs to be simple, says Dr. Schoenberg. Providers need to explain and offer healthcare services in ways that patients understand. Telehealth is able to do this because it allows healthcare to be distributed across devices that patients understand and use. Smart phones, iPads and laptops are ubiquitous. Patients are more likely to use their iPad to receive services than complex, diagnostic-level high-definition systems.
"Usability becomes a huge dimension for usefulness in the industry, and telehealth encompasses usability. For this reason, telehealth will continue to explode, and expansion across consumer communication devices will rise," says Dr. Schoenberg. "The possibilities within telehealth are showing the industry that technology can be a channel for healthcare delivery. I think this will lead to a big transformation in 2013 and years to come."
3. Greater clarity in flexibility for healthcare services. There is increasing clarity around telehealth for the flexibility and options it offers. Traditionally, physicians and payors have governed the way care is delivered. With telehealth, consumers and employers are becoming more involved in defining how they want to receive healthcare. According to Dr. Schoenberg, telehealth is enabling this.
"Most notably, employers that pay for health insurance for many patients across the country are stepping forward and saying that they want telehealth to be available."
Due to telehealth, patients that become sick can have healthcare under their fingertips, potentially eliminating lost days of work or personal time.
"Instead of throwing employees into the loop of trying to schedule appointments, which is time-consuming, healthcare can be under their fingertips. Telehealth can intervene in a timely fashion so the patient can be healthy as quickly as possible," says Dr. Schoenberg.
While the adoption and expansion of telehealth in the healthcare industry is far from completely evolved, there has been massive influx of hospital systems placing telehealth as a top priority. According to Dr. Schoenberg, CEOs as well as CIOs have telehealth on their to-do lists. As a greater understanding of telehealth — what it entails and what it can offer — grows, its impact will grow as well.
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