January 21, 2016

In our previous blog post, we explored three major factors involved in shaping telehealth adoption in healthcare today, including healthcare reform and cost containment, chronic disease management, and wellness and population health management.

Here are three more trends driving telehealth growth:

  1. Non-Acute Care Diagnosis/ER Prevention

A troubling contributor to healthcare waste is the overuse or misuse of ER services. Across the U.S., 136.3 million visits are made every year to the emergency room, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with some estimates suggesting that up to 76 percent of these visits could have been prevented or treated in a primary care setting.

Using telehealth solutions to give a preliminary diagnosis for patients before bringing them into high-cost care facilities is one idea that’s now being tested. In Houston, Project Ethan allows firefighters responding to 911 calls for medical reasons to set up a video chat on a tablet with a doctor who can see and talk to the patient and determine whether a visit to the ER is necessary. When it’s not, the firefighters have a process to get the patient to a primary care or other non-urgent care facility.

  1. Emergency Care Assistance

When a patient is being transported by ambulance or other emergency vehicle, such as flight for life, time is of the essence. Telehealth solutions may provide enormous value by allowing paramedics to immediately share real-time information with a physician about the patient’s status and even begin administering treatment prior to arriving at the hospital. Telehealth as an emergency rescue capability, through live-monitoring systems and apps, has the potential to prevent morbidity and improve the outcomes of a serious injury.

  1. Replacement for Regular Office Visits

Half of the 1,000 physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners surveyed by the Health Research Institute at Price Waterhouse Coopers said that 10 percent of office visits could be replaced by e-visits.

Walgreens launched a virtual doctor visit feature on its mobile app in 2014 that is now available in 25 states, giving consumers with non-emergency health conditions, such as upper respiratory tract infections, earaches, and rashes a way to get diagnosed and treated quickly. The drugstore chain is working with telehealth provider MDLive to connect customers with certified doctors through video chat on a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer. At $49, the fee is comparable to copays and more affordable for patients with high-deductible plans. It’s also faster for patients, with most visits taking place in 15 minutes—no commute required.

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