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Telehealth Gives House Calls and Healthcare an Uber-like Industry Reboot

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Telehealth is the “next big thing” in disruptive healthcare technology, and many people believe it will become the de facto way people receive much of their healthcare in the future.

But not everyone agrees on how telehealth technologies should be delivered – or by whom. If the goals for the future of healthcare are to reduce hospital readmissions, increase patient satisfaction and reduce costs, telehealth makes perfect sense.

As the federal government increasingly recognizes telehealth as a legitimate way to practice medicine, legislative and administrative policies are being established to encourage the use of telehealth nationwide. After federal regulations address reimbursement for telehealth services, new apps that transform healthcare as we know it will emerge, and the floodgates of acceptance will open.

How wide? Consider the ubiquitous success of other transformative technological solutions – Airbnb and Uber to name just two. Airbnb has brilliantly tapped the power of technology – combining cloud, social reputation and mapping services – to fundamentally change the lodging industry, connecting homeowners directly with business travelers who need a short-term rental. Travelers rate their experiences online, and homeowners with the best ratings earn the most bookings. As a result, travelers have a much wider array of lodging options, and lodging rates are no longer dictated by the inventory of rooms that a hotel has on hand.

Like Airbnb, Uber is having a considerable impact on the taxi industry; by combining social reputation scoring, dependable e-commerce and billing capabilities, and value-based pricing, Uber offers people in need of a ride a more comfortable, clean and pleasant experience than taxis have traditionally offered. While Uber is the embodiment of disruptive innovation, cab drivers are understandably upset because Uber is profoundly altering the way their business is performed, thus creating long-lasting and transformative change for the entire cab industry in the process.

Similarly, disruptive change is coming to the way healthcare is delivered. New telehealth apps will make connecting physicians and patients easier and faster, and healthcare will become more accessible to the consumer and more affordable for patient, provider and insurer alike.

Imagine having an app that enables patients to price, choose, book and see a caregiver by video – all in real-time and on the go, wherever they are. After an appointment, that same app could provide lab results, imaging studies, physician notes, and a history of the patient’s appointments and payments – all in a single place, all accessible online. Of course, this killer app would need to access multiple disparate data sources to provide the kind of seamless, intuitive patient experience that will make telehealth both popular and commonplace.

The success of this new healthcare model will depend in large part on the willingness of powerful EHR software companies to share the patient-owned and provider-owned data currently locked tightly away in their systems. Clearly, this requires cooperation between EHR providers, federal legislators and regulatory bodies, but you can see the pieces falling into place already. These changes are coming, and they’re inevitable.

There’s a new model already emerging that enables “healthcare in the cloud,” complete with smartphone apps that offer patients access to all of their electronic health information, wellness information, workout routines, diet information – in sum, everything they need to stay healthy, including real-time video consultations with a doctor.

To save money, several large corporations that self insure are already warming to the idea of delivering primary care through a call center, and many are incenting their workforce to take advantage of national providers like American Well and Teladoc, each of which offers 24x7 access to a wide variety of doctors, both via phone and online consultation.

This type of healthcare is taking the world by storm, but there is a challenge for call-center healthcare to overcome: It’s not personal, and that personal connection between patient and doctor is something that has long been considered a cornerstone of successful medicine. Just as significant, healthcare providers are starting to see patients leaving their practices as telehealth becomes both more convenient and commonplace. That’s leading many organizations to establish their own telehealth models to enable their existing patient base to interact with doctors they already know and trust.

As we watch the convergence of reimbursement changes, advanced technologies that have burst onto the scene, and the developing sophistication of both smartphones and smartphone apps, it appears likely that telehealth will become a standard way that healthcare is delivered to patients in this country.

This leaves healthcare CIOs at a crossroads: They can choose to embrace telehealth and adopt the technologies that will enable their organizations to compete in this quickly developing and disruptive new market, or their organizations will be left behind. Whether or not to participate in telehealth isn’t the question. The real question is: How long ago should you have started?

Ed Simcox is the Practice Leader for Logicalis Healthcare Solutions, the healthcare-focused arm of Logicalis US, an international IT solutions and managed services provider (www.us.logicalis.com).

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