Telehealth: Healthcare's biggest opportunity and biggest challenge

Telehealth and remote care may present healthcare's greatest opportunity, as well as its greatest challenge.

Among all the logical ways to cut healthcare costs, telehealth and remote care seem to be the most obvious and the lowest hanging fruit. Virtual care has the potential to reduce costs exponentially and earn consumers' approval.

However, there is one huge problem with telehealth.

Take the case of Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente. Fifty-nine percent of the organization's total interactions in 2017 were virtual, the health system's CIO Dick Daniels told The Wall Street Journal in May of this year. Kaiser is also reporting outstanding profits —  revenues increased to $20.3 billion in the first quarter of 2018, up 12 percent year-over-year.   

Here's the problem: Kaiser and payers seem uniquely positioned to exploit the huge cost-savings potential of remote care — which doesn't include sending staff to patients' homes or other locations. Because Kaiser operates a full-risk model, it can profit from reduced costs with less concern regarding fee-for-service income on the other side.

So, telehealth is a game changer, but not so fast. For large health systems without full-risk, it's much more complicated — they give up revenues to offer telehealth services but don't reap a return on investment yet.

Another big problem for large health systems now that virtual care is becoming widely available is that consumers are starting to demand it, and health systems will have no choice but to fully embrace it. Like urgent care facilities, health systems may not find telehealth profitable, but ultimately, the consumers will force them into offering it.   

In short, telehealth is quickly becoming the greatest opportunity for some, and the greatest challenge for others.

More articles on telehealth:

Southwestern Vermont Medical Center to deploy teleICU program in August
The top 8 reasons physicians say they won't use virtual care
How can hospitals support physicians in adopting telehealth? Physicians weigh in

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