There are a number of good reasons why experts are predicting that 2019 will be a “tipping point” for telehealth — in other words, the year to see virtual and remote care services gain even more widespread acceptance in health plan networks, practices and facilities throughout the United States.
Take, for example, the escalating patient demand for virtually delivered care. In 2017, a patient survey found that two-thirds of healthcare consumers would prefer seeing a doctor via virtual visits — a finding that takes on added importance given that the same percentage of patients say they’ve put off seeking care in the past for a variety of reasons such as convenience and cost.
“Video visits are more convenient and sometimes even require a lower co-pay than an in-person appointment,” writes Kate Ashford in a Forbes rundown of the survey’s findings. “Consider that the average in-office visit takes 121 minutes, including 101 minutes of commute and waiting room time — only 20 minutes with the doctor,” compared to an average wait time of five minutes for virtual visits.
The same survey found that 20% of healthcare consumers would be willing to switch providers for the option for virtual visits. That number is even higher for parents — a development that’s already been embraced by health plans nationwide, from a $2.3 million expansion of child-directed telehealth plans in New Jersey to a goal by California’s Stanford Children’s Hospital to more than double digital healthcare delivery in 2019.
Telehealth Growth Factors: Increased Reimbursement by the CMS
Beyond patient demand, another driver behind telehealth growth in 2019 is the increased reimbursement for remote care services offered by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) — which also happens to be the nation’s single largest healthcare payer, covering almost 90 million Americans through its Medicare, Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) programs.
Just as it had done in 2018, the CMS has expanded its reimbursement for remote care services in 2019, including increased coverage for:
- Set-up and patient education for the use of equipment for the remote monitoring of physiologic data
- Initial supply and daily recording or programmed alert transmission for remote devices
- Staff time for interactive remote communication with patients or caregivers
This move by the CMS have been widely embraced, not just by telehealth advocacy groups, but organizations like the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). In a recent letter, AAFP board chair Michael L. Munger, MD, FAAFP wrote that his group supports the “expanded use of telehealth and telemedicine as an appropriate and efficient means of improving health when conducted within the context of appropriate standards of care” (via PatientEngagementHIT).
Telehealth Growth Factors: Improved Data Management
Other experts also see telehealth as a means to manage the tremendous amounts of data being generated by today’s healthcare industry. With the advent of sophisticated remote patient monitoring (RPM) platforms like Care Innovations® Health Harmony, more patient data is available than ever before. And telehealth’s power to collect and analyze data helps to ensure that this data is leveraged as effectively as possible.
“We have got a problem and a curse in the fact that we have an explosion in the amount of knowledge there is in health care,” Cleveland Clinic CEO Dr. Toby Cosgrove told CNBC in a conversation about the growth of cloud-based telehealth services. “There’s an enormous amount of data and it’s a problem for us to keep track of and that’s why I think the cloud is going to come in.”
Dr. Cosgrove also cites the fact that “5,800 medical journals that are turning out 800,000 articles a year,” inferring that the cloud will be instrumental in helping put this rapid growth of knowledge to the best possible use.
Telehealth Growth Factors: Shifting to Demand-Driven Delivery
Disparate as these factors may seem, when combined, further telehealth growth in 2019 and the years beyond is all but a certainty. Writing at Medium, Isaac Krasny calls this a shift to “demand-driven healthcare,” versus the supply-driven model that’s previously been the center
“When a patient needs care, they are able to choose how they would like to access it, and they are aware of the tradeoffs they might be making with their choices,” Krasny writes. “This compels suppliers to alter how they deliver services to meet the needs of those patients in order to gain their business.”
This model of care “has manifested in the form of urgent care centers, retail clinics, and telehealth services,” he adds. “The surest sign that these are demand-driven is they are open before and after regular working hours … They prioritize minimized wait times, ensuring that patients get care when they want it.”
“Clearly consumers are not only becoming aware of telemedicine but starting to demand access to it,” echoed American Telemedicine Association CEO Jonathan D. Linkous in a statement. “It is becoming a part of the standard of care that should be made available throughout the country.”
If you’re interested in learning more about to leverage these telehealth growth trends to improve your own healthcare delivery efforts, we’re standing by the fill in the details: Contact us here to schedule a complimentary consultation with a Care Innovations telehealth specialist.