What's driving momentum behind consumer telehealth?

As hospitals look for cost-efficient ways to expand access to care and satisfy consumers' preferences for on-demand healthcare, many organizations are realizing the value of telehealth. More than three-quarters of hospitals and health systems — 76 percent — either have consumer telehealth services in place or plan to implement the capability by the end of 2018, according to a recent survey by Teladoc and Becker's Healthcare.

In a webinar sponsored by Teladoc and hosted by Becker's Hospital Review, Alan Roga, MD — president of the company's provider market division — discussed the current consumer-facing telehealth market and tips for successful deployment of virtual healthcare technology.

Teladoc, a telehealth company serving more than 20 million members and 7,500 clients, works with employers, insurers and health systems. Dr. Roga, a former emergency medicine physician, leads the company's dedicated business unit that works with hospital and health system clients.

"Hospitals are used to telehealth as far as inside the facility," Dr. Roga said, noting the prevalence of virtual physician-to-physician consultations within and across healthcare organizations. However, he said executing a consumer telehealth program comes with its own set of challenges that not all hospitals are prepared to handle alone. "I think it's very hard for provider organizations to start making decisions around consumer telehealth."

To investigate this issue, Teladoc partnered with Becker's Healthcare to conduct a survey, titled "2016 Hospital Executive Survey: Perspectives on Consumer Telehealth." The survey — which includes responses from 179 healthcare executives and telehealth stakeholders from across the country — considers providers' attitudes toward implementing virtual healthcare solutions.

Who is implementing consumer telehealth?
The vast majority of hospital and health system respondents (83 percent) rated consumer telehealth a high priority initiative, according to the survey.

Factors driving telehealth adoption were improving access to care by making it more convenient (75 percent), creating more efficiencies in care delivery (51 percent) and achieving better care coordination and integration (44 percent).

Furthermore, 69 percent of organizations that have established telehealth programs plan to expand in the coming years, the majority of which are targeting the general public (68 percent). Other target audiences were employees (54 percent) and existing patient populations (52 percent).

Although hospital leaders generally agreed on the importance of consumer telehealth, this has not been the case for long. In fact, 80 percent of established telehealth programs have only been in place for fewer than three years.

"It's not surprising," Dr. Roga said. He noted these numbers are reflective of what Teladoc has seen in the market firsthand, with the adoption of consumer telehealth among health systems marking a relatively new trend.

"It's gone from the employer to the payer, to now the hospital market," he said, commenting on the telehealth market transition he has seen over the past few years.

How to deploy a successful telehealth program
Telehealth is more than just purchasing video equipment, Dr. Roga said. "The best and most successful programs ask themselves, 'What do we need to accomplish as a system, and how does telehealth align with it?'" he added. "As opposed to, 'Let me go look for a piece of software because it's cool.'"

The first step, according to Dr. Roga, is creating a multiyear road map. With this timeline, health system officials can identify concrete use cases with values that go hand-in-hand with their long-term organizational goals.

A typical hospital might start its telehealth program targeting its own employees. "You start to learn about the program, [and see how] it creates great value," he said, noting the benefits of employee-facing telehealth. "Often, the return on investment for the employee benefits program can pay for the platform fees that most of the vendors charge, if you drive successful adoption."

However, regardless of whether an organization begins telehealth with its own employees, existing patients or branches out into a new consumer market, Dr. Roga emphasized that adoption does not come easily. Hospitals with the most successful consumer telehealth programs identified engaging patients in the program as a top investment priority.

The majority of hospitals said they invested less than $250,000 in their telehealth marketing. Their resulting patient interactions are reflective of this, at less than 5,000 annual visits. To develop a strong telehealth offering, Dr. Roga highlighted the importance of partnering with experienced vendors and providers, to take strain off of the organization.

"We've learned over the past 12 years of experience," he said. "Engaging consumers in consumer-based telehealth is a skillset."

Listen to the webinar recording here. You can download the results of the 2016 Hospital & Health Systems Benchmark Survey here.

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