Telemedicine Wrap Up -- Industry Happenings in August 2018

Posted by James Baker, Chief Medical Officer | September 11, 2018 |
James Baker, Chief Medical Officer

Telemedicine applications continue to expand as we approach the end of the third quarter 2018. From a new telehealth offering from one of the biggest retail pharmacy chains to a new study using telemedicine to provide mental health treatment to rural at-risk residents in West Virginia, telehealth continues to help patients improve access to care while cutting clinical costs for healthcare providers around the country.

Here’s what happened last month in the field of telemedicine.

CVS Launched a New Telehealth Offering


You know a technology is clearly stable when a large pharmaceutical retailer like CVS adds a telehealth application to its already robust set of services. In addition to offering retail pharmacy storefronts around the nation, the company rolled out CVS Health as a “pharmacy innovation company,” complete with Minute Clinics, infusion, claims management, and more. The company website lists their assets as including:

  • 9,600 CVS pharmacy retail locations that “dispense more prescriptions than any other drugstore chain.”
  • More than 1,100 MinuteClinics staffing nurse practitioners and physician assistants for non-critical care.
  • 11 specialty mail order pharmacy lines.
  • Prescription benefits management service line with 75 million plan members.

In August, Healthcare Informatics reported that the mega-pharmacy chain was adding a telehealth offering to their MinuteClinics. With the addition of these services the chain will offer healthcare services 24-hours a day. Customers can access these services from any digital device.

This is not the first time telehealth has been offered. CVS has been beta testing telehealth for the past few years. The Healthcare Informatics article says the data collected shows overwhelming support for the service line, with consumers reporting:

With these positive results in hand, CVS gave a green light to clinicians and technologists to launch a full-service telemedicine visit. Patients can access these services via the CVS Pharmacy app. Any patient aged two and up can receive a telehealth visit for minor injuries, a skin condition, or mental illness.

After downloading the application, consumers of the teleheatlh service fill out an online questionnaire. The app reviews the data and links the patient to a board-certified healthcare provider. The provider reviews the data and then initiates a video conference with the patient. The cost for the virtual visit is $59. It’s a phenomenal way to round out the CVS offerings.

New Behavioral Health Telemedicine Study in West Virginia

West Virginia is one of the poorest rural states in the nation. The Rural Health Information Hub (RHIH) lists some of the demographics on West Virginia:

  • The average per capita income is just $36,624.
  • Rural per capita income is even less, at $33,306.
  • The poverty rate is 18.7%.
  • 17.3% of residents in rural West Virginia never completed high school.
  • Unemployment is higher than the national average, at 5.9%.
  • 7% of residents lack any kind of health insurance.

A study by the West Virginia Health Association paints a picture of a state where the hospital emergency rooms are chronically crowded with residents who are both older and sicker than residents in the surrounding states. Access to care remains a problem, exacerbated by provider shortages and geographic limitations that prevent residents from receiving treatment. The West Virginia Gazette Mail reports that:
Access points to medical care can be few and far between, and the geography and population of these communities present difficulties – especially in emergency situations – that are easily avoidable in more urban areas.

In addition to the issue of access, Healthcare Informatics says one particular health problem is rampant in the state – major depressive disorder. In fact, West Virginia has the highest suicide rate of any state east of the Mississippi. Access to treatment is difficult, especially in rural areas.

In August, the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCOR) in Washington, D.C. announced a grant of $13.3 million to a joint effort by West Virginia University and Harvard Medical School for a trial study to see if a telehealth application could improve outcomes in the state. The application seeks to use remote Internet-based cognitive behavior therapy (eCBT), along with antidepressant medications to provide care to patients with major depressive disorder. It is surmised that eCBT will not only improve access to care but also cut costs of providing treatment to these patients. Previous telehealth studies have proven these outcomes in a variety of settings, and researchers are hopeful that this new model will improve the lives of residents in the state.

Intermountain Healthcare Launches New Virtual Care Clinics

Salt Lake City’s largest regional healthcare provider, Intermountain, has integrated 35-telehealth programs and 500 clinical providers under one virtual umbrella, called Intermountain Connect Care Pro. It’s a huge effort to systematize virtual healthcare into an inter-disciplinary virtual care service line, with everything from primary care, stroke, mental health treatment, and much more. Healthcare Informatics reported on the initiative, saying, “a core reason why the health system went in this virtual direction was because its leaders saw the evolving healthcare landscape and wanted to get out in front of it.”

Interestingly, one of the telemedicine services offered under Connect Care Pro is a critical care consultation centered on newborn infants. The clinical care consultation allows a remote clinician to consult with an on-premise physician, with the goal of keeping the infant in the existing facility without requiring risky and costly transport, which runs typically at $18,000 per incident. This is particularly important in a state like Utah, which has wide spaces between hospitals and clinics.

Intermountain says their new tele-ICU service covers 30-ICUs around the state with stroke, neonatal, and other emergency consultative care. Intermountain reports, “So far, some of the top results from deploying the virtual services across Intermountain have included reduced length-of-stay, decreased ER and urgent care visits, and improved mortality rates.”

Telehealth in Your Practice

Join the telemedicine revolution and talk with OrthoLive about how we can help your practice improve access to care while cutting clinical overhead costs. Contact us today.

Topics: "telehealth", "telemedicine", healthcare