All eyes are on Washington, D.C., as the nation looks to see the imprint President Trump puts on healthcare and other issues that face the country and the world.
Meanwhile, provider executives need to focus on delivering high-quality patient care and payer executives need to continue to retain members—all with an eye on quality, cost, and patient and member satisfaction. To be sure, both payer and provider executives will continue to plan for the projected 80 million Medicare beneficiaries in 2030. Still, seniors will soon be outnumbered by millennials as the patients demanding care from the U.S. healthcare system.
All of these potential changes and transitions will have a huge impact on health IT in 2017 and in future years.
Trend #1: A ‘breakout year’ for telehealth
According to a 2016 Partners HealthCare study, few seniors are going online to obtain information or accomplish healthcare-related tasks. Only 16% of seniors said they used the Internet to obtain health information, 8% filled prescriptions, 7% contacted physicians, and 5% attended to their insurance needs online. Younger patients, particularly millennials, are not surprisingly, further along when it comes to incorporating technology into their healthcare. Sixty percent support the use of telehealth (i.e. sharing health information via mobile health applications and engaging in video chats with their physicians), and 71% want their physicians to adopt mobile health applications, according to a Salesforce report.
While different demographics are accepting technology at different rates, managed care executives can bet that more patients and members, including the elderly, will start demanding telehealth services.
Pam Jodock, senior director of health business solutions at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), uses the Center for Connected Health Policy’s definition of telehealth; namely, that it’s “a collection of means or methods for enhancing healthcare, public health, and health education delivery and support using telecommunications technologies.” Examples of this type of care include a physician answering patient questions via secure e-mail or a patient portal, or a live video conversation in which a clinician serves as an intermediary between the patient who’s there in person with a specialist located miles away, says Jodock.
Consumers are much more digitally attuned than ever before, and they want the delivery of their healthcare to be convenient and easy, says Jodock. Still, telehealth visits are reimbursed at lower rates than “brick-and-mortar-based” visits, largely because it’s easier for providers to administer such visits. There are upfront costs, of course, and that’s for the investment in technology to enable remote visits with patients, she says.
For providers who remain hesitant to embrace telehealth, alternative payment models could be a motivator. For example, providers that face value-based measures related to diabetic patient care may need to embrace telehealth devices, such as remote glucose monitors, that provide real-time patient monitoring capabilities. “The success of ACOs will hinge upon their ability to increase their use of connected health technologies and convert that information into action,” says Jodock, who points out that 98% of outcomes are based on what happens outside the physician’s office—and, therefore, outside the physician’s control. “Physicians need to develop partnerships with patients to allow them to have real-time information about their health status so that [their physician] can intervene in a more rapid and efficient way,” she says. “This also allows patients to be more engaged in their own outcomes and helps them do a better job of adhering to their blood pressure medications or their insulin for diabetes.”
That’s why Mitch Morris, MD, vice chair and global healthcare sector leader at consulting firm Deloitte, expects 2017 to be a “breakout year” for telehealth solutions—despite budgetary pressures. He says that access to real-time data about illnesses such as diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma will be a must for providers. In addition, there will be a continuing drive toward care provided outside of the hospital and into home and school environments.
More employers are also recognizing the benefits of telehealth. Deloitte, for example, offers to its employees in all 50 states the option to pay a $25 copay for a virtual visit with a doctor via a tablet or a smartphone.