We’re nearing the end of the fourth quarter, 2019, and telehealth shows no signs of abating. In November, one of the largest insurance companies in the nation reported extremely high patient satisfaction scores for their subscribers, along with a cost reduction from using telehealth. The nation’s largest public health system, the Veteran’s Administration shared data showing a 17% jump in telehealth utilization from the prior year, with more than 2.6 million encounters occurring annually through the use of the technology. A new HIMSS report shows 90% of our nation’s health systems are using or plan to implement virtual care visits. Not to be outdone, Amazon is moving their digital home assistant, Alexa, more firmly into care delivery. The e-commerce giant launched a successful pilot recently to allow the device to help patients with medication adherence by verbally reminding them that it’s time to take their prescriptions.
Here’s what happened in the telehealth space last month.
Cigna Telehealth Patient Satisfaction at 81%
Insurance carrier Cigna announced last month that their efforts to drive down costs by reducing ER visits are working via their use of telehealth. The company offers telehealth 24/7/365 for their subscribers. Patients have access to providers (including pediatricians) for those minor medical conditions that always seem to occur after regular clinic hours.
“Traditional care can be inconvenient for patients who get sick outside of normal business hours, or have trouble scheduling care into their busy lives,” a company spokesperson stated. The copay on these visits costs less and the insurer reimburses their in-network providers for the service.
The insurance carrier published some of the results for their fledgling telehealth service when compared to traditional care. The study found:
- Virtual care cut costs by 17%.
- Virtual care reduced ER visits by 36%.
- There was a 45% higher rate of generic medications.
But Cigna also reported that the patients using the service have an exceptionally high satisfaction score of 81%. The insurance carrier noted their plans to introduce more educational materials to their subscribers to promote the service. A company spokesperson noted the difficulties inherent in introducing patients to this new type of care, “For education, we help customers understand the benefits of virtual care, including its simplicity, convenience and the types of conditions that can be treated virtually.”
Veteran’s Administration Reports 17% in Telehealth Use
Healthcare IT News reported last month that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs tracked a 17% jump in telehealth visits from the previous year. In 2019, the nation’s largest public health system delivered more than 2.6 million telehealth encounters. More than 900,000 patients used the service.
The VA has a long history with telehealth, announcing steady expansions of the service into multiple service lines over the years. Last year, the VA created the Anywhere to Anywhere program, allowing clinical teams to treat veterans across state lines, regardless of their location. The service was designed to increase access to care, particularly for high-risk illnesses like mental health.
With the announcement that usage rates are trending upwards, the VA is expected to continue new telehealth trials to expand the option for veterans around the nation.
HIMSS Says 90% of Healthcare Organizations Using Remote Care
Also in November, a new HIMSS report called “Telehealth: Disrupting the Care Delivery Paradigm,” confirmed that the majority of health systems offer or have pilot projects devoted to telehealth. The study noted how the systems are using telehealth services:
- 64% offer inpatient specialist consultation.
- 59% offer outpatient specialist consultation.
- 61% offer remote patient monitoring.
- 59% offer mental or behavioral health visits.
- 55% offer remote sick visits.
- 49% offer wellness visits.
- 42% offer consultations via text.
The study noted secure texting and unified communication platforms are not widespread yet. Most health systems polled expressed concern about handling additional data from telehealth visits.
When asked what factors were inhibiting widespread use of these services, 42% of the survey respondents stated they believed it was their patients’ preferences for the traditional face-to-face visit that cut down on widespread telehealth utilization. Several other factors limiting the service included:
- A lack of video-enabled digital devices.
- A lack of consumer confidence in the security of these visits.
- Internet connectivity issues.
- The consumer lacked the technical knowledge to use these tools.
- Concern about the quality of care.
However, an October study reported that nationally, patients are more accepting and trusting of telehealth technologies. More than half of the study participants said that digital technologies have improved the doctor/patient relationship. A senior director at HIMSS stated, "The pace of telehealth adoption is accelerating driven by a desire to expand access to care, make care more convenient, address talent gaps/shortages, improve care coordination, better monitor and treat at-risk populations and expand population health programs."
Amazon’s Alexa and mHealth
Medication adherence in elderly, chronically ill patients with multiple comorbidities, has always been problematic. The results are the potential deterioration of their medical condition, frequent clinical visits, higher costs, and reduced health outcomes.
But digital technologies can help these patients stay on track. Last month Amazon announced their digital personal assistant, Alexa, can now sync with a patient’s schedule, to remind them to take their medicine. The project launched with Giant Eagle Pharmacies but plans to roll out to more in 2020. The device will use multiple layers of recognition to ensure HIPAA-level privacy, including voice verification and passcode protection.
Earlier in the year, Amazon announced trials of Alexa’s HIPAA-compliant services linking patients recovering from surgery at home with their care providers. Patients can now use the Alexa to transmit data such as their blood sugar reading, to a remote clinical team. With this latest add-on service, Amazon seems fully vested in creating mHealth as a sideline with Alexa service as the technology that links clinical teams with their patients at home.
OrthoLive Continues Improvements on Their Telehealth Offering
OrthoLive is one of the first telehealth offerings designed exclusively for orthopedists. In November we launched a new messaging application that lets patients text instead of waiting on hold. It’s an easy-to-use, HIPAA-compliant feature that enables both patient-to-practice and doctor-to-doctor communication. It’s just the latest feature in our efforts to improve our telehealth product. To see a demo of the platform, please contact us.