As the conversation around Medicare-for-All continues to heat up, the need for reliable cost-saving strategies throughout every aspect of healthcare becomes more and more stark, regardless of what type of healthcare reform is being proposed. Even after accounting for tax increases and federal budget reallocation, as well as how the future of US healthcare might interweave public and private financing, one thing is certain—medtech must play a big part in mitigating costs.

And like any dramatic reform, implementing much of healthcare innovation requires, first and foremost, winning over the general public. With tech like medical wearables, the popularity of FitBits lends itself to a fairly smooth patient adoption of hardware for cardiac monitoring, infant monitoring, pain management, and more. One might assume ubiquitous apps like Skype and Snapchat and would also help usher in other components of telehealth like video conferencing and virtual visit apps.

But how many patients actually know about telehealth availability in their area?

How well are providers educating and promoting telehealth throughout their healthcare networks?

According to Avizia’s 2017 Closing the Telehealth Gap Report, provider networks are already transitioning past the introduction and promotion phase of telehealth and wiring it into their business models. Yet, according to the telemedicine company’s study, patient adoption has been hampered by both a lack of awareness and resistance due to lack of understanding. The study asserts that the biggest challenge for telehealth at the moment is to get patients up to speed not only on the various applications of telehealth, but also whether or not they have local access to these services.

Provider Eagerness vs. Patient Lag

The study surveyed both providers who work in healthcare and a general sample of the US adult population. Compared to Avizia’s 2016 survey, providers showed a significant shift in motives for implementing telehealth:

  • 70% said they wanted to Expand Access/Reach (up 30% from 2016)
  • 55% wanted to Improve Outcomes (down 11%)
  • 44% wanted Reduce Costs (up 16%)
  • 36% wanted to meet Consumer Demand (down 36%)

The two most interesting results here are that, compared to 2016, so many more providers said they wanted to expand access and reach to telehealth, while so many less said they wanted to meet consumer demand. According to the study, this shift away from consumer demand could be related to a 2017 report by RAND Corp that found that 12% of direct-to-consumer telehealth visits represented an alternative to other forms of care provision, while 88% represented new utilization. As a result, spending increased $45 per patient annually.

Avizia claims the takeaway here isn’t that providers are trying to reduce access to telehealth, but rather that they prefer to realign telehealth delivery so that it fits their respective business models more comfortably.

 

Patient Awareness vs. Patient Eagerness

As for the patient survey, not only did the population sample express general unfamiliarity with telehealth, a majority of those who have never used the technology are hesitant to adopt it.

Relationship with telehealth

  • 10% never heard of telehealth
  • 31% prefer face-to-face visits
  • 58% haven’t had the chance to use it

Awareness of insurance reimbursement

  • 66% of patients are unaware if their insurance covers telehealth
  • 20% know for sure if their insurance covers telehealth

Overall usage of telehealth

  • 82% don’t use it
  • 18% do

Of the 82% who don’t use telehealth, how do they feel about it generally:

  • 46% – telehealth visit would be less comfortable than face-to-face
  • 35% – just as comfortable
  • 18% – more comfortable

Of the 18% who use telehealth, reasons cited for using it:

  • 59% – time savings and convenience
  • 55% – faster service and shorter wait times
  • 43% – cost savings due to less travel
  • 25% – better access to specialists
  • 16% – a more comfortable experience
  • 16% – a longer conversation with a clinician

Avizia underscores the major difference between the perception of telehealth in patients who have actually used the technology vs. the perception of those who haven’t encountered it yet. It’s the job of provider networks to engage patients unfamiliar with telehealth in a way that’s also mutually cost-effective in the long run.

Two Different Takes on Implementing Telehealth

 

New York-Presbyterian (NYP)

NYP’s mission has been to create a interwoven network of telehealth services spanning the spectrum of healthcare needs. One example of an NYP telehealth offering is Express Care—a video visit alternative for patients with less acute cases. Much like other hospital networks in the US, NYP hoped to curb the problems of cost, satisfaction, and quality caused by high demand for ER visits. With Express Care, patients on-site go into quiet, secluded room and videoconference with an off-site ER doctor. Where a typical ER wait time would be 2.5 hours, Express Care delivers care in 30 minutes. Other NYP telehealth services include:

  • Urgent Care – (Similar to Express Care) “a secure video conference with a doctor for minor ailments and non-emergency issues”
  • Virtual Visit – “A telehealth app that allows for a routine checkup or follow-up from home”
  • Inter-Hospital Consult – “A program that allows doctors throughout the health system to collaborate on resolving a patient’s needs via bedside videoconferencing”

Northwell Health

Rather than provide direct-to-consumer telehealth, Northwell Health uses it to support on-site physicians. The idea is to increase the quality of healthcare across the entire continuum of care, and, rather than put the impetus to adopt telehealth fully within the patient’s hands,  Northwell believes adoption is best accomplished by giving doctors all the tools they need to make better decisions, thus decreasing readmission rates.

  • Electronic Intensive-Care Unit (EICU) – “A telemedicine-based surveillance for ICU patients. Includes 55 critical care physicians (sometimes two deep depending on the time of day), plus two or three critical care nurses and an advanced practitioner ”
  • Telepsychiatry Unit“Staffed with a psychiatrist on duty around the clock. A team of licensed clinical social workers supports the physicians in evaluation of patients and workflow
  • Telestroke Center“Routes telestroke calls from the ER to skilled neurologists, even when they’re at home”

 

Getting Ahead of the Telehealth Curve

At tekMountain, we strive to connect companies across a variety of industries with the innovations that revolutionize their business models. Considering the national transition toward value-based care, it’s essential that every healthcare provider network find ways to implement telehealth via strategies that work for both the short and long term. Regardless of the size of your network, this cost-saving technology is about to become the norm, and the sooner you begin to implement it, the farther ahead of your competition you’ll be.

 

Contact tekMountain today to learn more about the latest innovations in telehealth technology.

This blog was produced by the tekMountain Team of Sean AhlumAmanda SipesKelly Brown, Elyssa Miller and  Bill DiNome with lead writer Zach Cioffi.

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