Telehealth is here to stay!
Ghada is a Healthcare Strategist with 13+ years' experience in marketing communication consultancy, business operations management, and process improvement in the health and well-being sector with professional regional experience working in the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan, and Turkey working closely with companies (Pharma & healthcare) and health authorities to advance strategic objectives, launch outcome optimization projects and innovation management.
Telehealth: an ambition or a Reality?
Although telehealth was hailed more than a decade ago as a game-changer in healthcare service delivery, healthcare providers, payers, and consumers showed much less than expected adoption. Technology made telehealth possible, but it wasn’t until COVID-19 that its utilization expanded outside the conventional application to widespread adoption. (Fowkes, Fross, Gilbert, and Harris, 2020 & Medicare, 2020). To maintain care during the pandemic time, both physicians and patients had to rely on telehealth instead of the traditional in-person appointments. McKinsey’s recent estimate suggests that $250 billion of current US healthcare spending could be virtualized in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bestsennyy, Gilbert, Harris, and Rost, 2020)
Telemedicine, telehealth, virtual health, and virtual care. What exactly are these?
There isn’t a single definite classification for telemedicine, telehealth, and virtual health (Sood, S.P., Negash, S., Mbarika, V.W., Kifle, M. and Prakash, N., 2007). In this article, we will utilize the WHO’s broader definition for telehealth as: “The delivery of health care services, where distance is a critical factor, by all health care professionals using information and communication technologies (“ICT”) for the exchange of valid information for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease and injuries, research and evaluation, and for the continuing education of health care providers, all in the interests of advancing the health of individuals and their communities” (WHO, 1998). The definition covers the four critical determinants for any telehealth activity, which are: offering clinical support, utilization of several types of ICT, intended to overcome the physical interaction mandate, and always have a goal of improving health outcomes. Telehealth can be segmented according to utilization into Text-only or Audio-only services like SMS, WhatsApp, email consultations and other means of text-only or pre-planned phone calls, internet calls, and other means of two ways; Video call services through live videos and other means of audio-video discussions for example but not limited to Facetime, Skype, Zoom, WebEx, Google Meet, and others; Virtual medical consultation using licensed tools offering online visits using specialized technology (ex: Mediclinic, Teladoc, Amwell, Mend, Doxy.me, AMC Health, swyMed, etc.); and other virtual care technologies like the virtual patient coach, remote patient monitoring, digital therapeutics, etc.)
According to Deloitte, telehealth is the future of healthcare systems driving the critical success factors for consumer wellbeing and care delivery through a) continuation of care irrelevant of the setting, whether at home, inpatient or outpatient; b) coordinating multiple stakeholders and linking healthcare providers, patients, caregivers, public, payers and life science companies together; c) connecting different systems and tools to data-driven modalities whether asynchronous or synchronous; and d) offering care across different scopes of acute, chronic, or palliative care as well as wellbeing check-ups. (Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, 2020)
The roadmap for telehealth Adoption:
Telehealth has its implication on practice that, when identified, can be used as the roadmap for strategy formulation, tactical implications, as well as success monitoring. Telehealth will affect: 1) Day-to-day workflow and practice mandating focus on advanced training and continuous practical implementation programs; 2) cost and revenue streams requiring legislation that offers incentives for adoption for all involved stakeholders; 3) medical liability where the medical community will need help by integrating data, automating the process, encouraging real-world evidence data publishing and continuously sharing practices; and 4) data privacy liability where tighter cybersecurity and focus on data privacy practices are inevitable to avoid fines for potential HIPAA violations.
With the changing healthcare industry landscape, reports predict increased cost reduction pressure by payers, more demand for efficiency from healthcare providers, higher expectations from patients, and a continuous need for better data-driven ways of work. Telehealth is changing the business model, offering promise for better patient care, lower spending, more clinical accuracy, and a full horizon of possibilities. While the change management agenda will have plenty of hurdles to cross until telehealth adoption is considered a success, one can’t deny that traditional health care business models will have to evolve to stay relevant and competitive.