- Telehealth is becoming more than just a tool to increase remote patient access to care. In an increasingly value-based healthcare industry, telehealth technology is emerging as a tool to support patient self-management, according to a new Chilmark report.
The report, which outlines various telehealth vendors and provides a future market outlook, noted that various healthcare stakeholders have long regarded telehealth as a tool to close patient care access gaps. Providers, payers, and patients alike have all noted the potential telehealth has for allowing patients to access care from remote locations.
And as telehealth adoption barriers such as reimbursement and provider licensure begin to be absolved, healthcare organizations are set to integrate the technology into different areas of healthcare, Chilmark noted.
Initial telehealth adoption has been predicated on the notion that patients want more consumer-centric and convenient care. Telehealth has defied office hours, long commutes, and other access barriers patients may experience.
But as value-based care models continue to take hold in the healthcare industry, stakeholders will use telehealth as a chronic disease prevention and management platform.
“Increasingly, each key stakeholder, and the vendors that serve them, seeks to use telehealth beyond the hospital – to, in effect, continue a hands-off but still connected form of care after discharge,” wrote the report authors. “In this way, the use of telehealth has begun to shift from one-off care episodes to ongoing care support that can take place inside a patient’s home or in an urgent care, retail, employer, or outpatient setting.”
Healthcare providers have begun expanding the definition of “telehealth patients,” the report noted. Previously, clinicians targeted telehealth interventions at high-risk patients with chronic conditions, post-surgery patients, patients receiving end-of-life care, and other complex patients.
Going forward, organizations are slated to begin using telehealth with a broader patient base during patient risk monitoring for at-risk or rising-risk patients.
“By better monitoring at-risk patients, providers and payers hope to prevent the onset of one or more conditions that adversely impact outcomes, not to mention cost, quality of care, and employee productivity,” the report authors said.
Additionally, the success of a telehealth program has become increasingly defined by the patient experience. Improving patient access to care, avoiding high-cost care episodes, rerouting in-network referrals, improving patient satisfaction, increasing patient-provider interactions, and saving patient time and money are regarded as core success metrics, Chilmark reported.
Challenges remain as the healthcare industry stares down telehealth innovation.
“But for all the momentum, telehealth faces several challenges,” the report authors said. “Many patients still prefer to see their providers in person. Adoption of employer-sponsored telehealth — often regarded as an ‘easy win’ in the quest to improve access to care while lowering costs — remains in single digits.”
The solution, perhaps, is creating dedicated telehealth offerings as a part of the hospital’s brand. Organizations are beginning to integrate telehealth as a part of its core offerings.
“One common use case is the centralized telehealth department, in which organizations such as academic medical centers (AMCs) and integrated delivery networks (IDNs) bring low- and high-acuity telehealth programs together in a single business line,” the report authors noted. “This offers patients one way to access all telehealth encounters while allowing HCOs to pursue a unified strategy for telehealth investment, procurement, staff training, and overall growth.”
Moving into the future, healthcare organizations and telehealth vendors can expect to see telehealth serve as a part of chronic care management and a link to the healthcare provider for patients.
In coming years, Chilmark said telehealth stakeholders can expect:
- Better data management, more patient interest in care access, payment parity (2-3 years)
- Expansion into urgent or retail care centers, more healthcare organization offerings, outpatient expansion, focus on preventive health (4-6 years)
- Creation of the “smart home,” or voice-controlled tools, patient education chat bots, and the ability for patients to use tools on their own preferred devices (7-10 years)
“Changing healthcare business models as well as consumer demands will increasingly motivate healthcare providers, payers, and self-insured employers to adopt a ‘telehealth beyond the hospital’ approach, both in the home and at third-party care sites,” Brian Eastwood, the lead author of the report, said in a statement. “Stakeholders that are slow to adopt this approach risk losing patients to other care venues that view telehealth as a competitive advantage and not a source of competition.”