After joining health professionals from all over the globe in Las Vegas for the National TeleHealth Summit, one fact is abundantly clear: Telehealth, (Or Telemedicine, Teletherapy, OnDemand Care, etc.) is reshaping the landscape of healthcare delivery in the United States and is being recognized as the future of global healthcare; in fact, global valuation is expected to eclipse $53B by 2026. Examples of this phenomenon are:
- Teletherapy – mental health clients and practitioners’ use of telehealth is skyrocketing
- Rural areas – telehealth has lead to dramatic increases in more effective care in underserved areas
- Insurance – Telehealth providers often have more affordable rates than traditional care due to lower costs, thus helping the uninsured or those who have a high deductible/copay
In this post, we’ll look at a couple of those as examples of the ways the push toward telehealth is an example of how organizations improve by listening to their customers. Then in our next article we’ll examine some specific telehealth providers and how well (or poorly) they’re communicating with their patients.
The reasons for the growth of telehealth are easy to understand. It addresses and achieves the basic needs of a modern healthcare system: providing access to improved and convenient, high-quality patient-centric care, enhancing outcomes, and reduces per capita expenditures. Today, nearly 50 percent of hospitals throughout the United States are engaged in telehealth programs, and that’s projected to be at 67% by 2022. Studies have shown that the benefits of telehealth include significantly improved patient outcomes, more efficient care delivery, as well as a reduction in mortality rates, hospitalizations, length of stay, readmissions and healthcare costs. Telehealth has greatly enhanced access to quality care in rural and underserved areas and patient satisfaction has increased due to its convenience.
In this respect, telehealth is really no different from any other business. In a world of spiraling medical costs, increasing competition, complex and dwindling insurance benefits, and general uncertainty about the future, the one thing that remains constant is the value of a good patient/customer experience. Unsurprisingly, the organizations that have realized the greatest benefits from a teleHealth system are those who thought about all aspects of the process from the lens of the patient.
One speaker at the event compared the impact telehealth is having in the medical world to the upheaval going on in the auto industry. Whereas in the past, the only way to buy a car was to head to the local dealer’s showroom (and tolerate the typical car salesman’s pitch), today’s auto buyers can do everything online, with services such as CarGurus, CarsDirect, and others. Just as this speaks to the willingness of automakers and dealers to listen to their clientele, doctors and healthcare providers are now similarly listening to their customers.
One area where this was highlighted at the conference was the discussion around mental health, the segment with the largest growth in telehealth services over the last year. Clinics, major hospitals, as well as individual therapists all spoke about the various benefits of being able to provide remote-based care. Today’s savvy healthcare marketers realize that the best way to attract and retain patients is to listen to them directly (shocking!) and ultimately make their lives easier.
Psychiatric and mental health patients have been telling providers for decades that they don’t like the atmosphere and bureaucracy of a hospital when it comes to meeting with their doctor. On-demand or home-based care is a no-brainer for many when it comes to this type of treatment. It’s no surprise that a fair number of patients feel much more comfortable — and therefore more likely to be honest and open with their therapist — if they can have their session from the familiar and private surroundings of their home or wherever they are most comfortable. It might sound novel for the medical world but, again, listening and responding to customers is becoming table stakes.
Another area where telehealth has made huge strides by listening to what patients prefer is in the ability to treat those who have been historically underserved by traditional health care. One example that arose frequently was the ability of telehealth to help improve care in rural areas. For generations, many patients who reside in isolated locations have had difficulty with regular medical and dental appointments due to the distance they have to travel to the nearest clinic or hospital. Not surprisingly, this often led to a decline in health for many of these patients, leading to negative outcomes such as serious, untreated illnesses, higher insurance premiums, increased prescription costs, longer hospitalization, and time missed from work.
Needless to say, a robust telehealth system can dramatically improve these conditions. Rather than drive 90+ miles (or more likely not go at all), to an appointment, rural patients can now have the convenience of an on-demand chat with their doctor. The expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” was never more accurate. Now, instead of waiting until a true emergency requires a hospital visit, rural patients can now schedule an initial appointment immediately, and perhaps head off more serious conditions by being proactive. The result once again is improved health and lower costs.
In summary, the increase in the use of telemedicine had provided tremendous benefits to patients, clinics, doctors, hospitals, and even insurance companies. The organizations that have seen the most gain are those who have listened to their customers/patients and approached care from that perspective. Telehealth usage and customer satisfaction scores bear this out. Stay tuned for part 2 of our look at Telehealth, where we’ll dive deeper into the specific telehealth providers and see how they’re doing in terms of marketing and communicating with their audience.