Telehealth Trends Put Consumers in Control

| Health Care, Technology

The US is the unquestioned technology leader in complex medical devices, advanced patient care, and pharmaceuticals research. It is ironic that the more we innovate with medicine, the more expensive our healthcare system becomes. Increasingly, the sickest 10% of our population consumes the lion’s share of our total healthcare expenditures – estimated by some at about 65% of a $2.6 trillion annual spend.

It’s time for us to introduce disruptive innovations in the delivery costs of healthcare services, just as we have created breakthroughs in medical technology. Already, things are starting to change. New trends are emerging that will help the US put consumers in control of choosing alternative healthcare services.

According to labor economist Teresa Ghilarducci, who directs the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School for Social Research:

75% of Americans nearing retirement age in 2010 had less than $30,000 in their retirement accounts. The specter of downward mobility in retirement is a looming reality for both middle- and higher-income workers; 49% will be poor or near poor in retirement, living on a food budget of about $5 a day.

Already, we are seeing a sea change among those still employed. An increasing number of employers are shifting their employees’ coverage to catastrophic insurance with high annual deductibles, typically $3,000 to $5,000. Under this kind of plan, employees’ first few expenditures for healthcare procedures each year must come out of their own pockets. Co-pays won’t kick in until after an employee spends beyond his or her deductible.

Americans are very pragmatic, and we are willing to try new things. To prove this point, at one of my healthcare companies we conducted a survey that shows the effects of cheaper and better urgent care services versus traditional hospital emergency rooms. Of families surveyed, 24% – or nearly one in four – had gone to a walk-in urgent care clinic at least twice in the past year.

I predict that, over the next five years, telehealth services such as doctor visits via the web or phone will follow the same pragmatic adoption trend that we are seeing with walk-in urgent care clinics. Here are two reasons why: (1) The average wait time to schedule a doctor’s appointment is 23 days; and (2) Both Medicare and the American Medical Association say 70% of face-to-face doctor visits are unnecessary.

As remote methods of monitoring a patient’s health become more popular, telehealth e-visits may actually produce better doctor consultations than most face-to-face doctor visits. I know that, for some, this statement sounds counter-intuitive. But many doctors spend fewer than 10 minutes face-to-face with their patients. In these 10 minutes, they ask questions that easily could be handled over the phone with the aid of a photo of the patient’s problem or results of blood pressure tests, blood tests and/or urine tests – all readily available from a walk-in clinic.

So, in the not-so-distant future, telehealth services, including high-definition video conferencing, will become as normal on your iPhone or iPad as online banking or travel services are today.