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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.”

Telemedicine A Growing Priority For Hospitals

Posted on April 29, 2016 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.

Telemedicine programs are not new to hospitals. In fact, tele-stroke and tele-ICU programs have gained significant ground over the past several years, and other subspecialties, such as tele-psychiatry, seem likely to grow in popularity.

In coming years, telemedicine will go from being a one-off strategy to an integral part of hospital care delivery, if a new survey is any indication. Government and private insurers are gradually agreeing to pay for telemedicine services, knocking down the biggest obstacle to rolling out such programs. And while integrating telemedicine services with EMRs poses major challenges, hospital leaders seem determined to address them.

Virtually all of the hospitals responding to the survey, which was conducted by telemedicine vendor ReachHealth, told researchers that they were busy planning and preparing for telemedicine programs. Twenty-two percent of survey respondents, which also included some medical practices, said that rolling out telemedicine programs was one of their top priorities, and another 44% said that it was a high priority. Health systems averaged 5.51 telemedicine service lines, up almost 20% from last year.

I was interested to note that 96% of respondents were planning to roll out telemedicine because they felt it would improve patient outcomes. I’m not aware that there’s any substantial body of evidence demonstrating that telemedicine can have this effect, but clearly this is a widespread belief.

Also, it was a bit surprising to read that “improving financial returns” was a very low priority for providers when developing telemedicine programs. On the other hand, as researchers point out, hospitals and practices to see improved patient satisfaction as a driver of ROI. Apparently, execs responding to this survey are convinced that telemedicine to have a substantial effect on satisfaction and outcomes, though to date, only 55% said telemedicine was improving outcomes and 44% felt it was boosting patient satisfaction.

Researchers also found that providers that dedicate more resources to telemedicine are seeing more success than those that don’t. Specifically, hospitals and clinics that have a 100% dedicated telemedicine program manager in place were doing better with their initiatives.

In fact, two thirds of respondents with a dedicated program manager in place ranked their efforts to be “highly successful,” while only 46% of programs without a dedicated program manager met that description. (The programs were most successful when a VP or director was put in charge of telemedicine efforts, but only slightly more than when a CEO or coordinator was in charge.)

That being said, it seems that the highest barriers to telemedicine success are technical. The respondents complained that the lack of common EMR in hub and spoke hospitals, and the lack of integration between telemedicine and their current EMR, were still standing in their way. Many were also concerned about the lack of native telemedicine capabilities in their EMR.

Despite all of the obstacles to creating a flourishing telemedicine program, hospitals and clinics have continued to make progress. In fact, 36% have had a tele-stroke program in place for more than three years, 23% tele-radiology for three years plus, and 22 percent have had neurology and psychiatry telemedicine programs for three years or more. ReachHealth researchers note that service lines requiring access to specialists are growing more rapidly than other service lines, but contend that this is likely to shift given pending shortages of primary care physicians.

Admittedly, any survey published by telemedicine vendor is likely to be biased. Still, I thought these statistics were worth discussing. Do they track with what you’re seeing out there? And do you think EMR vendors will do more to support telemedicine anytime soon?