The Coming TeleHealth Boom
Telehealth, Telemedicine, eHealth, eMedicine, mHealth and other similar terms are fast becoming mainstream. While each can be differentiated, they circle around a common theme: using technology to connect doctors and patients in ways that improve efficiency, save money and improve clinical outcomes.
The Healthcare Efficiency Challenge
I was at a presentation and the speaker said the following: starting Jan 1, 2011, 10,000 baby boomer will turn 65 EACH DAY for the next 19 years.
Read that sentence again and think about it.
Now add that to a few other things we know:
- Older people typically need more care than younger people
- There is already a shortage of doctors
- There is already a shortage of nurses
- There is already a shortage of support techs
- There is already a shortage of money to pay for healthcare
So the future either
looks very bleak as healthcare is denied to greater and greater numbers of people,
Healthcare delivery will get more efficienct so more people can receive high levels of service for the same cost.
The TeleHealth Boom
While there has been a lot of talk about electronic medical records and their potential benefits recently, they are a small part of a much larger and more interesting story. A wide variety of technologies are emerging to help us reach the happier place of a more efficient and less costly health care system.
A few that leap to mind:
- Remote monitoring wristwatch from Reflection Technologies
- Remote video physician/psychiatrist consultation from companies like VeaMea
- Social Media platforms like TrustNetMD that improve communciation and outcomes
- Gaming models like Gaming4health.com that help people learn to improve their health while having fun
- Easy to use Apps like those from TheCarrot to make health data more convenient to manage, and encourage people to actively mange their challenges
- And what list would be complete without mentioning Google Health. Who knows what magic might emerge from their labs?
While all these technologies do different things, they all help in one way or another to improve the efficiency of doctors and other health professionals by making patients more informed, proactive, consistent at follow-up, and reducing travel required by either patient or doctor to interact. They allow true partnership in care without physical presence.
All This Ingenuity Does Not Guarantee Success
There are still plenty of roadblocks, not the least of which include:
* Standards and Interoperability -- as all these different tools evolve and need to share data to coordinate care for a patient, they need to work together, or within generally agreed upon frameworks. Some of these exist, more are being developed.
* Privacy/HIPAA -- Health data is personal, and different people have different levels of squeamishness about their health information floating around in cyberspace. The Federal Government long ago stepped in with HIPAA and created both order and chaos, rules and fines but little specificity. As health data is pushed and pulled through more platforms, increasing numbers of questions arise: e.g. does a video conferencing platform need to be HIPAA compliant and if so, why doesn't a telephone system? If a patient chooses to share their data on a non-secure system (Facebook status "Dr. Smith just cut out my appendix, barely a scar! -- [see attached photo]") does the physician still need to adhere to a higher standard?
* Licensing across state lines -- If a doctor provides medical advice to a patient in another jurisdiction, what are the medical licensing/liability issues? Which jurisdiction's rules apply (since they are often different)? If a patient accepts care from a physician who is not licensed in their state, is there a doctor/patient relationship? Does the patient have recourse to complain (or sue) if they have a bad outcome?
* Reimbursements -- Well before the health care bill of 2010, a.k.a. "government takeover of healthcare," the government ran half the health care system through the VA, Medicare and Medicaid. Government rules drive enormous flows of medical dollars, regulating who and what get treated, how much is paid, how one applies for and receives reimbursement, etc. Government needs to be out in front, opening up the field for new and different tools to improve outcomes and health.
* Picking winners -- Of the thousands of point and integrated solutions competing for share of mind in the market, the good ones somehow need to rise to the top. This should be a triumph of merit, not marketing if we are to keep delivering high quality services to greater numbers of people at lower cost per interaction.
A telehealth strategy is an evolutionary step, and one that requires planning and focus on what makes sense for your environment. Help us, help you to formulate your telehealth strategy by seeing what our clients say, downloading our case study and checking out our telehealth resources.