Yes, Virginia, there is telehealth.
By Jim “Oz” Osborn, Investment Manager – Grant Programs
In Bessemer Ventures’ report in May 2016 on how technology companies are responding to the shift from fee-for-service to fee-for-value (also known value-based payments), telehealth was cited as one of three standout segments. The reason? Telehealth combines two essential ingredients of the value-based approach: engaging the consumer/patient and lowering the cost of care.
Indeed, PLSG’s analysis of the Health IT market indicates that more than $0.5B was invested in telemedicine/telehealth start-ups over the past three years.
You’ve probably seen television commercials in which a patient at home communicates with a doctor using a smartphone, tablet, or computer. That live interaction enables dialog leading to a diagnosis and prescription for therapy, but the patient avoids the in-person visit to a doctor’s office – and the inconvenience and lost work time, not to mention rubbing elbows with other ill patients in the waiting room – that are associated with the traditional physician-patient encounter.
To a digital engineer with a tech-savvy family (I have two daughters in their early 20’s), such e-visits (aka virtual visits) are hardly cause to raise eyebrows. My wife and I communicate with each of our kids almost every day using FaceTime. But telehealth is a great deal more than HIPAA-compliant Skype, as a recent experience illustrates.
I was accompanying my mother to a scheduled appointment with her ophthalmologist when I noticed a small mole on her wrist, new and suspicious enough to warrant examination by a dermatologist. Thanks to another positive development in healthcare, I was able to request an appointment through her patient portal (I have power of attorney, etc.) on my iPad. Not much more than 15 minutes later, I was speaking to a health system representative about location and scheduling options. Then, she asked if I knew about a new service called “e-Dermatology.” Basically, it involves completing a short questionnaire on salient medical history and description of the medical issue, then taking three digital photographs: close-up, general area and unaffected area for comparison. We did all of this on my iPad in under 7 minutes; it would have been faster, except to answer one of the questions, I had to call a relative to clarify a diagnosis she’d received in the past.
About three hours later, I was picking up eye-drops prescribed by the ophthalmologist. The pharmacist said, “she has three prescriptions.” I was expecting one, but who were the other two from? They were sent in by the dermatologist whose name I recognized because coincidentally – or not – a she was the same one I was told would see her, had we not gone the e-Dermatology route. While waiting, I again checked Mom’s patient portal and sure enough, there was the report from the dermatologist. Someone had reviewed our answers and photos, then presented them to the attending physician, who “called in” the prescriptions.
So, there you have it: through telehealth, Mom got the care she needed and we both avoided at least one trip a doctor’s office. The patient was engaged – and satisfied – and I have to believe that the costs of this virtual encounter were substantially less than a live one. Check, check, and check.
By the way, Mom is doing just fine.
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