In the face of rising healthcare costs and changing consumer demands, innovations are reshaping the delivery of medical care. Patients are now being diagnosed via a camera and computer screen, at the pharmacy down the street or from continuous data that is sent using a mobile application. Healthcare professionals must embrace these alternative and complementary forms of care, or risk losing patients and profit.
How Value & Convenience Are Reshaping The Delivery Of Healthcare
While many physicians still prefer traditional in-office visits, telemedicine cannot be ignored as more patients seek convenient and cost-effective alternatives. In fact, the American Well 2015 Telehealth Survey found that 64% of American consumers surveyed would see a doctor via video.1
As physician and consumer acceptance of telemedicine grows, so will its usage and application. In 2015, the online platform Teladoc, which brings a licensed physician to a patient's disposal, conducted 575,000 remote telehealth visits and predicts it will exceed 900,000 visits this year.2 Meanwhile, Massachusetts General Hospital used telehealth to meet with Boston Marathon bombing burn victims who were living at a rehabilitation center. Patients were able to remotely check in with their physicians, saving time for much needed rehabilitative therapy.
While telemedicine isn't new, it's becoming a more widely used component of healthcare delivery. Healthcare practices must prepare themselves for this reality. To adequately do so, they must understand what objectives they want telemedicine to accomplish, e.g., provide cost-saving alternative care, deliver service over greater distances or gain new clients seeking convenience.
Once practices pinpoint the goals of their telemedicine program, they must ensure reimbursement streams are in place. This means contracting with payers, insurance companies and others to ensure the program is compliant with state guidelines and services will be reimbursed. Equally important is the investment in technology, including minor investments in web cameras and a secure portal tied into patients' electronic medical records. It's important to budget for system and application upgrades as well, remembering that technology advances quickly.
There are over 2,000 retail healthcare clinics in the U.S., which is predicted to rise to 2,800 by 2017.3 Patients are flocking to these clinics – think CVS or Walgreens – because they're quick, close and often cheaper than visiting a primary care physician. Although these clinics are competitors, healthcare practices can accept and embrace this trend in one of two ways.
By partnering with retail clinics, practices can gain new patients through referrals because 40 - 50% of patients seen at retail clinics report not having a primary care physician, a result of recent access to healthcare insurance because of the Affordable Care Act.4 These partnerships are becoming commonplace. Recently, the Cleveland Clinic struck a deal with CVS that will make doctors available on-demand through a telehealth platform at CVS MinuteClinic locations in Ohio.
Alternatively, some practices have opted to create their own fast-track clinic in-house, which are designed to provide quick and limited encounters that rival the experience patients receive at retail clinics. To compete, these clinics typically handle 6 medical issues most commonly treated by retail clinics: sore throats, ear infections, sinus infections, female bladder infections, conjunctivitis, and general cough and flu symptoms.
As the transition to value-based healthcare continues and patients become more responsible for some aspects of their care, healthcare professionals will need to track a patient's health outside of their annual physical. One solution is self-monitoring which provides a regular flow of healthcare data, enabling healthcare professionals to keep abreast of any illnesses, as well as gain insight into other facets of their patient's life.
A PWC survey indicates that physicians are ready to embrace self-monitoring. Two thirds of respondents would be willing to prescribe an app to help patients manage a chronic disease such as diabetes, and more than 40% are at least somewhat comfortable with relying on at-home test results to prescribe medication.5
With patient-self monitoring, practices do not need to make significant investments in equipment. Apps, which require minimal investment for practices, are quickly becoming one of the most common forms of self-monitoring technology that healthcare professionals recommend. Where appropriate to use, a physician should determine the best app available for each patient and their condition, keeping in mind its level of integration with EHRs and whether it encourages the patient to continue to participate in their own care.
Without a doubt, technology is critical in the evolution of healthcare, but using it effectively is a balancing act between preserving the doctor-patient relationship and ensuring patients receive cost-effective and convenient care. As EHR connectivity increases and information can be shared more easily, the value of these alternative forms of care will grow. Practices that fail to adapt to these changing healthcare delivery methods will likely lose patients to competitors.
1 American Well Press Release, “2015 Telehealth Survey: 64% of Consumers Would See a Doctor Via Video”, 2015
2 NBC, “Telemedicine: What Is It And Who Can Use It”, 2016
3 Accenture Press Release, “Number of U.S. Retail Health Clinics Will Surpass 2,800 by 2017”, 2015
4 Huffington Post Business, “Why We're Picking Walmart and CVS Over Doctors' Offices”, 2015
5 PWC, “Healthcare delivery of the future: How digital technology can bridge time and distance between clinicians and consumers”, 2014
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