Expert Insights from ATA2017

The following is a guest contributed post from virtual health experts Dan Watterson and Greg Briscoe with North Highland.

The American Telemedicine Association’s Telehealth conference (ATA2017), is an annual convergence of 5,000 telehealth industry experts. As part of our work, we help providers, payers, vendors, and public sector entities embrace new ways of doing business in the rapidly evolving healthcare ecosystem. Many attendees and other exhibitors gravitated to North Highland’s exhibition booth for conversation. Our interactions at the conference revealed several key takeaways for virtual health.

Tech is only part of the recipe

Consumers desire virtual health. A 2017 telemedicine survey shows that patients prefer physicians who offer video visits. In fact, their willingness to switch primary care physicians for the opportunity to converse via video grew from 17 million to 50 million Americans between 2015 and 2017. This is great news for virtual health device and software providers. Yet, we heard from ATA2017 participants that telemedicine saves lives, money, and time only when it is implemented correctly.

While technology is certainly the conduit for telemedicine, and mobile is the platform of choice, even the best mobile health IT does not improve poor clinical communications or processes. Yes, studies illustrate that these technologies can increase positive outcomes for health systems and patients. Still, the path to the best telehealth destination for a provider can have many starts and stops depending on regulations, copays, and budget. Furthermore, medical practitioners and administrators can be easily overwhelmed by all of the options of how to implement processes for today’s myriad of standalone devices, smartphone apps, wearables, and remote monitoring services. Health systems must first set a comprehensive strategy to successfully transform to virtual health.

The best strategy for virtual health providers is to be part of the solution. Realize that health systems must implement a holistic plan for telemedicine, not bounce from the latest bright and shiny tech offering to the next. Some organizations are setting up internal governance mechanisms toward telehealth adoption. Consider how a practice or facility evaluates clinical standards, protocols, guidelines, and workflows to show the true benefits of telehealth and care offerings. By joining in open discussions about the successes and failures of various telehealth initiatives, virtual health providers who plan for the long haul will enjoy promising and lasting relationships with their customers.

Mobile offerings and good care become symbiotic

The consumers we serve live in a mobile world. Patients want access to information and services 24/7. Virtual health options can offer significant benefits to physicians who may outsource on-call requirements and to patients who may save time and effort by avoiding extra trips to the hospital or doctor’s office.

Virtual health will eliminate the need for some routine in-person office visits and is already being used in cardiology, radiology and psychiatry. Yet, a new wave of virtual options goes way beyond heart monitoring, x-ray results, and therapy sessions. For example, smartphones that integrate with or double as stethoscopes, glucose meters, fertility monitors, and exercise trackers put power into the hands of patients to track their own personal medical data.

Today, a huge percentage of the population is self-monitoring. This trend will continue to evolve with new tools that allow useful patient data to be efficiently and securely analyzed by people and software so we can monitor and treat patients. These tools will help to communicate, provide useful data and run analyses so that physicians and data scientists can work together to deliver virtual health anywhere, anytime both proactively and reactively. This leads to better care, fewer mistakes, and a more complete view of the patient. A prime example is Fitbit data showing specificities such as a patient’s quality of sleep and physical daily activity.

Many patients count virtual health as a quality-of-life win, especially if they can connect face-to-face with a medical provider through text, talk, or FaceTime-like conversation. Even the discussion of sensitive issues like disease-screening results and depression can be covered in a secure, face-to-face conversation via videoconference. Patients will save time and money by avoiding traffic, parking and time out of the office.

The net win for the physician is that they will gain a patient-friendly avenue for frequent monitoring of progress, thus strengthening the physician-patient relationship. Medical professionals will also maintain a competitive advantage for attracting new patients as demand for these capabilities will continue to grow. However, providers need to seamlessly integrate virtual care into their current clinical workflows if they are mixing virtual care into their in-person practice. If a company offers virtual care as a service, they need to run an efficient operation, effectively share resources, and meet physician licensure/credentialing requirements.

Consolidation is coming

Telemedicine and virtual health companies are navigating an active merger and acquisitions focused business environment. At the ATA2017 conference, we witnessed a good deal of adaptation of existing devices and software. Video monitoring and cloud-based services, along with wearables, are on the rise. We also noted vendor-partnering between EMR providers and telemedicine tech developers. This trend indicates that the EMR companies recognize the inevitable fast growth of remote care. Similar to many other emerging industries, we expect a continued consolidation of services, merger arbitration, and growth of broader company portfolios.

Often businesses are turning to consultants to help them through these activities. Healthcare practitioners need to figure out whether or not they pick new services to meet customer needs, and consultants can help to either develop products in-house or choose a product in the marketplace.

Ultimately, consolidation can create efficiencies and improve the likelihood of implementation success. The predicted mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships will save patients money and improve their care. Virtual health companies must be nimble to navigate the possibilities as healthcare organizations innovate and consolidate.

Final Thoughts

Sooner than we think, we will operate in a virtual health environment where people demand care of the highest quality, lowest cost and most convenience. While software, hardware and mobile accessibility are imperative components of a fully-functioning virtual healthcare practice, successful implementation, the right products, and properly staffed services must all integrate with workflows in order to meet customer needs. This is where the team of virtual care experts at North Highland can help. If we get it right from the beginning, the convenience that all virtual care options provide will result in a healthier world.

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