By Terry Bauer, Healthcare Management Consultant, CEO and Entrepreneur
JULY 2015 – However you picture the future of healthcare in America, it’s clear that telemedicine will be a part of it. And not just in the hospital setting, where many hospitals today are beaming in physician expertise from remote locations to solve staffing shortages. Telemedicine is entering our homes, too, where physicians can once again make house calls—without leaving their offices.
It’s a new frontier that is growing rapidly—with virtually unlimited possibilities over the coming years. Consider some of the breaking news reported in a recent blog by healthcare industry analyst Nick Wardell:
- Minnesota joins 26 other states in enacting a telemedicine parity law. The law requires health plans to reimburse telemedicine the same way—and at the same cost—as in-person service.
- UnitedHealth Group plans to expand coverage for virtual physician visits to employer-sponsored and individual plan participants. Those covered will increase from ~1M to well over 20M.
- Teladoc, the first and largest telehealth provider in the nation, projects 500,000 visits in 2015 and values its market opportunity at $17B.
CB Insights wrapped up the latest in the digital healthcare evolution in another fascinating post recently, highlighting startups like First Opinion that allow consumers to text questions to doctors 24/7, and Pager and Medicast that offer mobile apps for on-demand house visits.
Advantages to physicians and patients. It’s not often that a breakthrough comes along that is both economically smart AND that meets the preferences of the marketplace, but telemedicine is one of those breakthroughs. Eric Topol, author of The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine Is in Your Hands, charts the time, money and emotional advantages of virtual visits with the doctor compared with office visits.
No more lengthy waiting room visits, no more hassles with travel and parking. Especially as the shortage of primary care doctors increases, a virtual doctor who can give you more face time, at a lower cost, makes a lot of sense.
Telemedicine has benefits for doctors, too, by reducing overhead costs, enhancing compliance, and making it possible to see more patients during and after the 9-5 business hours of a traditional office practice. (In my work with Stroudwater, I have a client doing behavioral health via telemedicine. Given the stigma some patients associate with making office visits for psychological services, the additional privacy afforded by virtual visits makes good sense, too.)
Is something missing? As one solution to the primary care crisis, telemedicine offers hope that the future of American healthcare might not be as grim as some pundits predict. Can it fulfill its promise? Are we losing something vital in the rush to virtual care—something that can only occur in a face-to-face visit between patient and doctor? Maybe. Maybe not. I’d like to hear your thoughts.
Terry Bauer joined Stroudwater in 2014, where he leads the Strategy Practice Team at the firm. He also dedicates his time and focus to affiliations, accelerated operational improvement, physician/hospital alignment, and early stage healthcare technology and services. Terry has a passion for primary care and is convinced it is the key to achieving the Triple Aim. A big-picture leader with over three decades of experience introducing strategies to drive revenue and profit growth, Terry has successfully facilitated the completion and integration of more than two dozen acquisitions in the physician practice management and revenue cycle management industries. He has been actively involved in all facets of the healthcare industry with the exception of the pharma sector. Terry will post once or twice a month on his LinkedIn page, www.linkedin.com/in/terrylbauer, and on Twitter @TerryLBauer