New Payer-Technology Partnerships Could Be Telehealth’s Future

June 25, 2019

Why the introduction of telehealth kiosks in employers is part of a trend of increased patient visibility.

As the healthcare industry continues to look for novel ways to cut healthcare costs, telehealth, or technologies that allow procure healthcare services remotely, keeps coming up as a strategy of interest. Numerous studies, from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to popular health plans, show that implementing telehealth strategies can significantly help curb unnecessary visits and lower costs. Yet, due to regulatory and reimbursement challenges, as well as a lack of patient education regarding the benefits, the telehealth market has not grown as much as expected.

But one company is betting they can expand their market share by meeting patients where they are at-namely, in their offices and workplaces.

American Well, a telemedicine technology solution provider, has now launched comprehensive telehealth kiosks at three Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts offices in the cities of Boston, Quincy, and Hingham. It’s hoped that these top-of-the-line kiosks, which include not just video conference capabilities but tools to measure common health indicators like weight, temperature, blood pressure, and blood oxygen levels, will allow patients (in this case Blue Cross Blue Shield employees) to easily make use of their covered telehealth benefits. Blue Cross Blue Shield will not receive any revenue from the kiosks.

American Well hopes that they can develop similar partnerships with other businesses, retailers, and community health centers to create “pop-up” telehealth offices in offices and stores around the country.

Neha Sachdeva, an advisory director at KPMG, a professional services organization, says that many payer organizations are looking at new ways to expand telehealth services in the ambulatory space in hopes of going for the “Triple Aim.”

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“Telehealth should improve access to care, reduce the costs associated with care, and improve the quality of outcomes for patients,” she says. “But even though the market has expanded in the past few years, it’s been difficult to educate consumers that this is an option that is available-and it is an option that can be both cost-effective and convenient for users.”

Hence, a closer look by both health plans and technology companies at the benefits of putting telehealth options directly in places where consumers are likely to frequent. For large employers that do provide telehealth benefits, having such kiosks available can help promote the services to employees.

Sachdeva said such offerings could make consumers more aware that telehealth is an option for them-and, more importantly, an option that is covered by their health plan.

“Often, employees may not know that these services are covered,” says Sachdeva. Having the kiosks directly in the workplace makes it clear that they are-and provides employees the option to quickly pop in and visit with a physician before a health issue becomes serious enough to require missed work time.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts reported in a recent Boston Business Journalarticle that one large retailer has already contracted to bring a kiosk into the workplace in the coming months-and other companies are also interested in doing so in the future. Sachdeva says that she is not surprised.

“We’re starting to see consumerism drive the shape of telehealth in healthcare,” she says. “Being focused on the patient experience, meeting patients where they are at, so to speak, to meet patient demands and needs will be increasingly important. So, we’re going to see more moves toward innovative partnerships between telehealth companies and health plans to make these offerings more available, as well as more relevant to attract new patients and retain the existing ones.”

Kayt Sukel is a science and health writer based outside Houston.