By: C. Elizabeth O'Keeffe
E-health, e-patients, social media, telehealth, telemedicine, mobile health care – what does it all mean to you as a patient? As an employee? As a CEO? “Telehealth” is booming and could substantially disrupt the old-fashioned health care model. In-person doctor appointments, hospitalizations, and follow up visits all occur, but through a new means – technology. The growth in technology and other competitive forces, including market differentiation, market segmentation, costs, efficiencies, and access, have created this new market and while it may all seem like just more “techie stuff,” it is not going away and as in banking (like that first time you used an ATM – what, no teller?), it will change how we approach health care.
Where might you find it? You may find telehealth in academic medical centers (AMCs), large hospital systems, health care clinics, ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs), home health care, and in the global marketplace.
Reasons for the growth in telehealth
Advances in technology, including access to the internet, limited access to specialists in some areas, and far distances for travel make it critical for academic medical centers to make their capacity available to patients in remote areas thus fostering the foundation and mission of academic medical centers for patient care, research, and teaching a new generation of doctors. The so-called doctor shortage exists, particularly in rural areas and in primary care for our aging population with long term care needs associated with chronic disease.
And while it may be called “Obamacare,” market forces are requiring health policy analysts and economists to force the demand and supply curve away from traditional and more expensive models of care, shifting the population towards an emphasis on preventive health, wellness, accountability and efficiency. Last, the global market is opening up as a result of technology and social media. Anyone can use technology to access health care advice 24/7/365.
Telehealth is not just another service
Telehealth is a modality to deliver many types of services, and viewed broadly, may include emailing your doctor for lab results, accessing a patient portal to view your medical records, Skyping with your doctor, or asking for a second opinion through a video camera or photographic images. As an employer, telehealth is an opportunity to reduce employee hours away from work, promote corporate wellness programs, and reduce insurance costs. Telehealth is a strategic maneuver as it can help determine when, where, and how to provide services to certain populations that are different and an alternative to a traditional “bricks and mortar” concept (which has its own inherent costs and limitations). For new entrants in this market to survive, they must engage in a strategic planning exercise to assess the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of this new market as well as a full understanding of the competition, the relevant market and environments of care and, in the future, anticipating market consolidation.
It is critical to have knowledgeable counsel at the table to assist with reimbursement issues, regulatory issues with licensing, crossing state lines, medical staff issues, licensing, privacy and security, and potential fraud and abuse concerns particular to this service line, including management and/or the provisioning of equipment to distant sites. Professional liability insurance is an important consideration as well as safeguard to ensure that the quality of care is not compromised.