Health Systems, Hospitals Getting Serious About Telemedicine

Posted on December 8, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or

In the spring of last year, I wrote up a story about hospitals and health systems and their growing interest in telemedicine. The story included data from a survey on hospitals and telemedicine, which found that health systems averaged 5.51 telemedicine service lines at the time, up almost 20% from 2015.

Given these stats, I was not surprised to see a new press release from Teladoc reporting that the company now supports more than 200 hospitals, a number which represents a 100% growth in such relationships during this year.

If you’re wondering why this has happened, you’ll get more or less the same answer from last year’s study and Teladoc’s news release. In short, it’s all about the outcomes, baby.

When I wrote the story last year, one of the things that stood out for me was that 96% of respondents had said they were planning to roll up telemedicine services because they felt it would improve patient outcomes. While that made sense to me at the time, it seemed more like an aspiration rather than a practical plan.

What made the survey data even more provocative is that “improving financial returns” turned out to be a very low priority for hospitals working on telemedicine programs. At the time, this focus on outcomes rather than direct financial returns surprised me.

Now, about 18 months later, I’m doing the facepalm thing and saying “of course, hospitals want affordable, flexible care delivery options — they’re a great tool for managing population health!” It’s a no-brainer, actually, but I guess my brain wasn’t working at the time.

Now, as far as I know, the assumption that telemedicine can help with PHM and value-based delivery generally has not been rigorously tested. Also, even if the assumption is correct, hospitals are likely to struggle with deploying telemedicine for a while until they develop the most efficient workflows for using it.

Also, while it’s all well and good to say that focusing on outcomes will create ROI as a secondary effect, for some hospitals it will be pretty rough to carry telemedicine infrastructure and staffing costs upfront for a while. After all, if they want to make an impact with telemedicine, they have to make a serious commitment; I’m guessing that most of us would agree that a scattershot approach would get most hospitals nowhere.

Ultimately, though, I think hospitals have it right. Telemedicine is likely to offer health systems and hospitals some amazing options for extending service lines, managing populations more effectively, and yes, improving outcomes.