Telehealth grows up: 5 key trends in hospital-based telehealth programs

A growing number of hospitals are recognizing the value of implementing a hospital-based telehealth program, with nearly 94 percent of respondents of a Teladoc survey rating it a top strategic priority.

At Becker's Hospital Review's 9th Annual Conference in Chicago April 11, Alan Roga, MD, president, hospitals and health systems, Teladoc, shared the results of a survey the company commissioned with Becker's in 2017 to show the maturity of the telehealth market in an ever-changing healthcare industry.

"The most successful programs align their consumer telehealth program to their organizational goals," Dr. Roga said. "This is a strategy discussion number one and successful programs align these [telehealth] programs to their organizational goals."

In its second annual state of consumer telehealth benchmark survey, Teladoc tapped 274 respondents, most of whom are executives or directors primarily from hospitals with more than 100 beds. Dr. Roga compared these results against those from the 2016 survey.

Here are five key market changes Teladoc revealed between its 2016  and  2017 survey findings.

1. Shift to existing patient populations. The majority (63 percent) of systems with telehealth programs already in place are planning to expand them. One of the main focus areas is a shift towards providing care to existing patient populations (48 percent) which showed a threefold increase from one year prior.  

2. Significant change in direct-to-consumer approach. More and more hospitals are changing their direct-to-consumer approach, moving away from true retail telehealth programs and shifting more towards employer populations. Hospitals are also most often relying on vendors to provide on-demand, minor medical care consultations for these direct-to-consumer initiatives and staffing with their own providers for appointments like postoperative follow ups. Although telehealth programs should not solely be viewed as revenue drivers, they are able to wield a positive ROI if implemented correctly.

"Focus on your patient populations, think twice about direct to consumer … understand what you are getting yourself into," Dr. Roga said.  

3. Hospitals are shifting to their own providers. As patient volumes increase — hospitals reporting more than 10,000 annual telehealth visits spiked 50 percent in 2017 — hospitals are increasingly staffing their telehealth programs with their own providers. About 57 percent of respondents said their telehealth programs are staffed internally, up from 42 percent in 2016. Additionally, physicians are warming up to telehealth, and the fears they once had that telehealth would take patients and business away from them are starting to disintegrate.

"Now [physicians] are realizing the problem with telehealth ... is the 'tele' part — this is medical care. You've got an outpatient surgery center, a CT scan, MRI and you can have a platform to deliver virtual care so doctors now want to be more of a part of it." Dr. Roga said.

4. EHR integration as a barrier is decreasing. Reimbursement remains a top challenge, but EHR integration as a perceived barrier decreased 62 percent in 2017 and is now only cited as a challenge by 8 percent of respondents.

5. Marketing support is being recognized. Though respondents cited securing physician buy-in (67 percent) as the No. 1 key to program success, organizations are beginning to value marketing support, with 25 percent of respondents rating a telehealth vendor's marketing capabilities among the most important attributes.

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