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Technology, and specifically telemedicine, has an enormous role to play in improvements to clinical work flows, care coordination, and long-term health outcomes.
Regardless of changes on Capitol Hill and the ensuing impact on healthcare policy, there are reasons to believe that 2017 will bring a greater commitment to improving coordination and implementing new care models.
Technology, and specifically telemedicine, has an enormous role to play in improvements to clinical work flows, care coordination, and long-term health outcomes. Here are three trends that will further drive increased telemedicine use this year:
1. Telemedicine will create new business models to meet consumer demand
Increasing consumer demand for healthcare convenience will combine with employer and health system scrutiny of emergency department costs to drive demand for a cost-effective and convenient care access model.
Adding video conferencing services to existing models of scheduled care delivery is not sufficient to address these concerns. Integrating virtual care provides a new business model for health systems to address consumer demand and manage the cost associated with risk-based payer contracts.
These new care delivery models work to meet consumer demand and provide an alternative to emergency room or urgent care visits for low-acuity conditions. Integrated telemedicine allows health systems to extend their services online, enabling providers to meet patients where they are anywhere, anytime without drawing patients away from the benefits of existing health system affiliations and primary care providers.
2. Telemedicine will provide strategic pricing options, as more patients focus on costs
Likely changes to the Affordable Care Act will result in an increased number of uninsured patients. For those with employer-provided health insurance, we expect to see more patients on high-deductible health plans.
These are two of the many reasons to expect that patients will face an increasing cost burden in 2017, and these burdens will drive patients’ needs to manage their healthcare costs effectively, as well as a need for improvements in patient education and price transparency initiatives to support informed decision making.
Interactive patient education tools are critical to continued learning beyond the clinic and to helping patients digest a significant amount of medical and financial information. Already, we are seeing health systems leverage telemedicine offerings to provide interactive follow-up sessions for chronic condition management and post-surgical care.
Similarly, patients taking a more active role in determining their health spending will require new tools to educate patients about healthcare costs. Telemedicine offers a unique opportunity for health systems to offer strategic pricing options to unique patient populations. Strategic pricing initiatives will increase in popularity as health systems, payers, and patients can benefit from successful patient management of personal healthcare costs.
3. Telemedicine will help providers meet MACRA requirements
MACRA legislation, passed in late 2016 with a bipartisan effort, cemented the move toward cost-efficient protocols and quality metrics and opened the door for system improvements. Addressing key pain-points for many large hospital systems, MACRA provides greater opportunity for transparency and technology innovation in complex systems of health records and Medicare payment management.
There is tremendous potential for systemic improvement in MACRA’s apparent embrace of entrepreneurial thinking. If CMS is willing to shake-up traditional models, there may be deeper technology integration in coding, EHR interoperability, and care delivery. It could be an exciting year.
A possible barrier to continued growth
Provider training and readiness will be a limiting factor in telemedicine adoption. It is critical to increase partnerships between medical educators and telemedicine companies to prepare providers for the telemedicine demand.
In June of 2016, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a policy specifically encouraging inclusion of core competencies for telemedicine in medical training education. The AMA Immediate Past President, Robert M. Wah, MD, said, “As innovation in care delivery and technology continue to transform healthcare, we must ensure that our current and future physicians have the tools and resources they need to provide the best possible care for their patients. In particular, exposure to and evidence-based instruction in telemedicine's capabilities and limitations at all levels of physician education will be essential to harnessing its potential."
This year will create opportunity for telemedicine based in necessity. Patients continue to demand more convenience in healthcare, ubiquitous video-visit technology is shifting the expectations and experiences of both patients and providers, and educational and policy-making bodies are establishing protocols that seem to embrace telemedicine as a unique aspect of the care continuum. These elements combine to provide a very optimistic view when considering improvements.
Ralph C. Derrickson, has served as Carena, Inc’s, President and CEO since 2006. Under his leadership, Carena has grown into a nationally recognized provider of virtual clinics for health system clients.