The telehealth market is poised for growth with $431 million in venture capital investment being poured into startups in the space this year. What’s the appeal? Telehealth, or telemedicine, enables physicians to deliver care services to patients from a distance via communications tools such as videoconferencing, remote monitoring, and information-sharing platforms. As a result, caregivers are able to diagnose, treat, consult and more effectively manage chronic disease while reducing travel by helping clients manage their care within the safety of their own homes. Telehealth can also promote better collaboration with clinic-based specialists and improves patient relationships and overall satisfaction.
It comes as no surprise that millennials, also known as “digital natives,” are a big supporter of telehealth thus far. Millennials have grown up in an instant access world, where they can do almost everything right from their personal devices—naturally, they expect the same with healthcare. According to a study by EBRI Research, 40% of millennials believe having the option of telemedicine is significantly important, compared to 27% of Gen X’ers and just 19% of Baby Boomers.
Ironically, telehealth is already positively impacting Gen X and Baby Boomer generations, which is increasingly valuable as their reliance on healthcare offerings increase. Consider this: roughly 20% of America’s population live in a rural community at a median age of 51 years old and typically need to travel for hours for a routine doctor’s appointment. Why? Only 10% of the physician population service these remote areas. Now, imagine transportation issues, weather challenges, needing to see a specialist, those who are elderly or physically challenged, and those that are seriously ill. Needless to say, many simply do not make the trip and therefore, do not receive proper care.
Now imagine a world where patients would be able to receive healthcare anytime, anywhere and regardless of the technology they are using. Apart from solving the barriers to physical access to healthcare, telehealth addresses growing challenges in the industry associated with rising costs and evolving consumer demands. Telehealth, driven by recent technological advancements and solutions, has the potential to completely transform the healthcare industry as we know it.
Despite challenges pitted against adoption, organizations are beginning to catch on. For example, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) rolled out a new telehealth service that easily connects veterans with VA healthcare facilities through secure and private video sessions. In a White House announcement from last year, President Donald J. Trump, together with Secretary of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, introduced the department’s telehealth service for its veteran’s client base of approximately 20 million veterans, 5 million of which reside in rural areas.
Through their efforts, the VA has established a quickly growing program that enables more quality care and better satisfaction among both patients and care givers. The service was said to significantly expand access to care, especially to those who need help in mental health and in suicide prevention, which is a top priority for the organization.
The VA Video Connect program so far has approximately 20,000 new patients signed up are hosting over 6,000 virtual visits each week. The VA’s telehealth program, specifically, focuses on streamlining and simplifying patient access. Patients join in from their personal computers, mobile phones, or tablets automatically by simply clicking a link sent to them before the encounter is supposed to start.
Connectivity is simple: the veteran need not install an app, change their behavior, worry about passwords or administrative rights. Moving forward, these efforts with an emphasis on simplicity for the user, will be extended even further. Imagine a veteran that is hard of hearing joining a video encounter and getting the settings on their hearing aid device tweaked on the fly.
The rise of telehealth & the key to success
The rise of telehealth has certainly started to bridge the gap between healthcare providers and their patients, but general adoption remains slow. Recent research shows that just over 50% of healthcare executives say that they have adopted some form of telemedicine but budgets allocated to support such campaigns are still modest. Why?
According to a recent report, concerns around reliability and accuracy, access and security are the top factors that are impeding adoption. Of course, there is also reluctance from the lack of reimbursement, complex licensing requirements, and the high cost of the technologies. So what can be done to increase adoption? The top solution provided by physicians (67% ) to encourage adoption is providing virtual care technologies that enable users to join without having to install a custom built application.
While the use of video in the business and professional environment is not new, there remains a fundamental issue with the technology: it’s still too complicated to use. Many telehealth products and services in the market still require users to download, install, and use their app before they can join the meeting. This isn’t solving the real problem as it increases work and complexity on the user, forcing them to think about what technology to use for what meeting.
This inhibits confidence as users always have to stop and think: “What solution do I need to use? Where is this meeting hosted? Why is this so technical?” Now, combine this stress with that of a patient in need of consultation. The last thing patients and caregivers need to worry about is technology backfiring during a diagnosis. Thus, if these challenges cannot be solved in a simple way, neither patients nor doctors will use the technology or benefit from it.
As the entire industry has seen a shift to patient-centric care, it’s vital for virtual care products and services to make the user its number one priority: reduce friction and minimize the visibility of technology. Users can now focus on the encounter to receive the patient care that they deserve.
When it comes to telehealth, it’s critical for physicians and patients to be able to connect effortlessly. The power of flexible video that offers a wide range of connectivity is obvious through the convenience, cost savings and the reduced travel time for patients everywhere. Telehealth certainly has the potential to transform the industry and bring healthcare access to the wider population, but simplicity is critical for success.
Jordan Owens is the vice president of architecture for Pexip responsible for leading the Americas Pre-Sales Engineering team, the global support initiative, and serving as an extension of the research and development organization into the Americas Sales Theater.
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