Hospitals Excited By Telehealth, Consumers Not So Much

Posted on December 29, 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 www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

When telehealth first emerged as a major commercial phenomenon, consumers were the main market targeted by providers, especially direct-to-consumer models like Teladoc and American Well. But if a new research report is right, the dynamics of the telehealth market have changed substantially, with hospitals and health systems investing heavily in telehealth and consumers hanging back.

The study, which was conducted by telehealth solutions provider Avizia, found that while hospitals and health systems are making increasingly large bets on telehealth, including infrastructure, training and process re-engineering, patients aren’t matching their enthusiasm.

Consumers who do access telehealth seem happy by what they find. When Avizia asked them to rate their telehealth experiences on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 rating it as a “great experience,” nearly two-thirds ranked their experiences between 8 and 10. Also, consumers who were using telehealth said that they like the time savings and convenience it could offer (59%), cost savings due to a lack of travel expenses and lower wait times to see clinicians (55%).

That being said, many consumers haven’t gotten on board yet. In fact, roughly eight out of 10 consumers told Avizia that they weren’t well versed in accessing telehealth, nor did they know whether their insurer would pay for it.

Providers, for their part, have ambitious plans for telehealth use. According to the study, the top one was the ability to reach or expand access to patients (72% of respondents). However, they face several obstacles, the study notes, including problems with getting reimbursed by health plans (41%), program expenses (40%) and resistance from clinicians (22%).

The Avizia results suggest that hospitals are still wrestling with many of the problems they’ve faced over the past few years in implementing telemedicine.

For example, a study by KPMG released in mid-2016 noted that about 25% of the 120 providers it studied had implemented telehealth and telemedicine programs which have achieved financial stability and improved efficiency. Thirty-five percent of KPMG respondents said that they didn’t have a virtual care program in place, though 40% had said they had just implemented a program.

Another study, released earlier this year by Reach Health, notes that 50% of hospitals and health systems are beginning to shift department-based telehealth programs to enterprise-based programs, which suggests that they no longer see virtual care as an experimental technology. They still aren’t rolling out these larger programs yet.

Still, the fact that hospitals are continuing to push ahead with telemedicine, and even make meaningful investments, makes it clear that they’re not going to be put off by current telemedicine obstacles. When the reimbursement tide floods the gates, I’m betting that hospital telemedicine programs will go from “not unusual” to “omnipresent.”