The state of the telehealth market and strategic priorities of health system leaders

Telehealth has become a permanent fixture in healthcare delivery since the start of the pandemic. Now, healthcare leaders are looking to expand and improve telehealth offerings.

During a discussion sponsored by Teladoc Health as part of the Becker's Hospital Review 9th Annual CEO & CFO Roundtable in November, Teladoc Health's senior vice president and medical director, Shayan Vyas, MD, MBA, discussed learnings from Teladoc Health's fourth annual survey on the state of the telehealth market and gained insights from the attendees about telehealth at their own organizations.

Five key insights were:

  1. Virtual care is now mainstream. Teladoc Health found that in 2021, 94 percent of survey respondents have or will implement telehealth in the next year, with 87 percent already having done so. That's a big leap from 2020, when only 61 percent had telehealth. "Previously, telehealth was a nice-to-have," Dr. Vyas said. "Now, it is here to stay. . . It's now C-Suite. It's transforming how healthcare is delivered. Virtual care is now a permanent fixture. This is how we are going to practice healthcare. It has impacted health systems’ strategies."

  2. Challenges remain but numerous opportunities exist. Survey respondents reported key challenges with telehealth include reimbursement, physician adoption, security, the digital divide and disparate health data. Opportunities include expanding access to care, especially in rural areas, improving behavioral health and having the ability for a specialist in one location to provide assistance to care being delivered at another site.

  3. The pandemic brought a rethinking of telehealth goals and priorities. In 2020 and 2021, the number one goal for telehealth was improved access. However, in 2020, the other top goals were competitiveness and market expansion, while in 2021, clinical outcomes and reducing inappropriate emergency and urgent care use were the top goals.

  4. Health system leaders see opportunities for expanded use of virtual care. State laws and licensing aside, telehealth offers the ability to have a specialist in one state serve a patient in another. As health systems recover from the pandemic, 41 percent of leaders believe that more than 20 percent of care can be delivered virtually. "Folks are starting to believe you can do more and more virtually," Dr. Vyas said. In particular, expanding telehealth to provide more home-based care is a top priority over the next 12 months. Several participants mentioned equipping locations such as schools and churches with technology to enable access to telehealth.

  5. Teladoc Health is focused on whole-person care. The survey found that 30 percent of organizations that use videoconferencing for virtual care plan to switch to a telehealth platform. In addition, 60 percent plan to implement an enterprise telehealth platform to plan all acuity levels and care locations. In this environment, Teladoc Health is working with hospitals and health systems, employers, health plans and insurers to "deliver whole-person care that spans every stage of a person's health journey," Dr. Vyas said.

 

While financial, policy and process issues still need to be wrinkled out, it's clear that telehealth has reached a tipping point, and the medical community is embracing it.

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