Four Telehealth Trends for 2018 – and Beyond

Posted by James Baker, Chief Medical Officer | September 7, 2018 |
James Baker, Chief Medical Officer

 

 

Telehealth has come a long way from the clunky (by today’s standards) applications that were built by NASA in the 60s and 70s. Telehealth is increasingly moving to the forefront of patient care, as restrictions on licensure, credentialing, and reimbursement shift from blocking the industry to partnering with it.

We already know that the majority of hospitals offer telemedicine applications to their clinical teams. Lawmakers and policymakers have called for a loosening of the restrictions that allow telehealth to flourish. As we near the third quarter, 2018, the telehealth industry is clearly changing and moving toward wider and more widespread adoption.

Let’s examine four trends we’ve noticed in telehealth and their impact on providers and patients.

#1 How to spot a hot industry? Follow the investors.

In 2018, telehealth applications are picking up the lion’s share of investor funding. For example:

  • Israel firm Tyto Care announced earlier this year they raised $25 million in Series B funding. The funding came primarily from Chinese investors as well as Walgreens in the U.S as well as some Israeli companies.
  • Simple Contacts, a contact lens telehealth company that lets users take an eye test on a connected device with a camera. The test takes three minutes and costs $20. The results are sent to a licensed eye doctor, who fills the contact prescription. Earlier this year Simple Contacts raised $16 million in Series B funding, rounding out their offering to $26 million.

There’s also been some merger and acquisition activity in the sector, including InTouch Health, which just purchased TruClinic and Reach Health. These maneuverings signal that telehealth is not only worth the risk – it’s worth the investment.

 

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#2 Telehealth isn’t a carve-out, but part of an overarching clinical offering.

The initial telehealth offering by some of the biggest players in the industry acted as an outsourced service that provided access to doctors via telehealth technology.

The problem is that when you’re sick, you don’t want to consult with a stranger. That’s exactly why hospitals began getting into telehealth; they recognized that patients would prefer a virtual care visit with a provider they’ve already established a relationship with.

This trend is what has enabled software-as-a-service models like OrthoLive to step into the space by providing a phone application that makes it more convenient to see your own physician – not a random doctor.

#3 Telehealth is expanding into all kinds of venues.

Over the next few years, you’re going to see telehealth in all kinds of new places. In one of the most conservative “red states” in the country, the governor is calling for expanded telehealth applications for kids.

An article in M Health Intelligence found Texas Governor Greg Abbott calling for the expansion of an initial telehealth program for students experiencing mental health issues. The Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage and Referral Project seeks to intervene with at-risk students to improve their mental health before the unthinkable occurs.

MobiHealthNews reports that 18 states have allowed for Medicaid reimbursement for these types of school-based telehealth programs. Clinical staff suggested that school-based treatment should focus on more than urgent care.

Beyond schools as a non-traditional venue for telehealth, according to MobiHealthNews, the U.S. Army opened their own virtual medical center to help deliver care in areas hit by natural or man-made disasters. These telehealth centers of excellence can take medicine to where it’s needed most. The article reported these applications were used in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

Telehealth is also being used to provide medical treatment to inmates in the Cook County jail, reducing the risk to the community by providing treatment in-house.

These are just some of the latest treatment settings that are expanding the reach of telehealth in the United States.

#4 VA growing telehealth applications – again.

In May we reported that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) lifted their state licensing requirements. This means that any VA doctor can offer a telehealth visit to any VA beneficiary anywhere in the U.S., without the state line credentialing restrictions that were previously holding them back. Now, a VA doctor does not have to seek licensure in the states where they are providing telehealth.

This is a huge triumph, both for the VA, who was widely criticized for long wait times for treatment a few years ago, and the veterans themselves. Now vets can receive treatment no matter how far away they are from a VA facility.

The Trump administration supports the move to expand telehealth in the VA. Last year, the VA announced a new app that allowed veterans to schedule appointments through their smartphone. This is only one of a number of new programs offered to veterans that leverage the technology:

  • For example, a new telehealth program offers psychotherapy to help treat everything from PTSD to addiction to other mental health disorders. MobiHealthNews reported on the teleFOCUS application for military families.
  • Another new program the VA has been piloting a “two-text patient-provider text messaging” app. It’s a proactive way to text patients to remind them to take medications or to have them take their own vital signs or blood sugar levels and communicate them with a doctor via text message.

These programs not only allow the VA to improve access to treatment for America’s veterans, but it’s a measurable way to collect data on our veteran community.

Telehealth Beyond 2018

We believe telehealth is coming out of the shadows and into the mainstream. While these four trends signify unprecedented shifts in the industry, it’s application, and the technology itself, it seems clear that many lawmakers are finally embracing telehealth.

OrthoLive brings something different to the telehealth industry. Our application is a secure, HIPAA-compliant telehealth subscription service. The product was designed by an orthopedic surgeon and targets the small to mid-sized orthopedic provider in an independent or employed setting. We feel the time is right to offer this application to orthopedists to help them cut overhead, improve patient volumes, and increase the convenience of service delivery for patients. We’d like to extend a personal invitation to take a test drive of OrthoLive to begin to understand how telehealth could change your practice for the better. Contact us.

Topics: digital trends, 2018 trends, "telehealth"