Why telemedicine, compounded by the pandemic, may revolutionize healthcare

Telemedicine has been around for decades, but the pandemic pushed it mainstream, and it is now growing in many directions.

Up to 17% of outpatient and office visits are made through telemedicine, about 38 times more than before the pandemic, McKinsey & Co. said in a July report.

And it’s growing in popularity: telemedicine has the potential to become a $ 250 billion market, the consulting firm said.

It could also help revolutionize healthcare. By making doctor visits more accessible, convenient, and cost-effective, telemedicine reaches underserved communities in rural areas and urban centers, where residents often do not get the care they need.

“It can be a great trailblazer in improving equity in healthcare,” said Oleg Bestsennyy, a McKinsey partner in New York who is helping healthcare companies with next generation care models. “Whether it’s geographic, racial, or socio-economic issues, telemedicine has the potential to overcome them. We are beginning to see how it is used to address some of these health inequalities among vulnerable populations. “

The benefit goes beyond talking to doctors on a smartphone or computer. With the addition of electronic devices, sensors, and blood tests to the home, telemedicine is becoming a vital part of an emerging digital health industry.

It is easy to see how digital connections and an integrated system could help patients cope with chronic conditions, including sending reminders and monitoring results and medication. Could telemedicine also help prevent people from getting sick in the first place?

That’s the goal of many in digital health, including Michael Gorton, a serial entrepreneur who was the founding CEO of Teladoc, one of the pioneers in the telemedicine industry. His newest company is Recuro Health, a Dallas-based startup that provides a virtual health platform with primary care, behavioral health, home testing, and genetic screening.

He points out that many people don’t find out they have heart disease until they have had a heart attack. Many have no idea that they have cancer until they are diagnosed late.

But if patients had better insight into their conditions and medical trends, problems could be spotted early, he said. He used the analogy of a car dashboard sending important signals to the driver.

“You can’t see how many people on the side of the road are running out of gas,” said Gorton. “You don’t see that many cars are overheating. You can fix these things based on the gauges in your car, but you don’t have gauges in the body. We’ll start with that. “

In late August, Recuro Health raised $ 15 million in venture funding following a funding round announced in March. Recuro offers integrated digital solutions to employers, providers and health insurers and expects sales of over 10 million US dollars this year.

“We call it a digital front door,” said John Halsey, Recuro’s chief growth officer and former Teladoc executive at Gorton. “It’s not just the video interface; it also integrates relevant device information and diagnostics. “

The company is evaluating damage data, biometric screens, laboratory results and even genomic information to identify risks earlier, he said. “We use telemedicine and technology as part of a fully integrated, broader strategy.”

Recuro has a lot of company. Venture fund investments in digital health have skyrocketed since the pandemic.

According to Rock Health, investors invested $ 14.6 billion in digital health companies last year, almost double what it did in 2019. Investors broke that record – in the first six months of 2021.

If the pace continues, this year’s risk funding will be over 25 times higher than a decade ago.

“This investment is literally flowing into hundreds of different companies,” said Bestsennyy, co-author of McKinsey’s industry report.

That “means a lot of tinkering with care models,” he said. “It gives me hope that there will be models that really make a difference in how care is provided.”

He already sees innovations, especially in the care and monitoring of people at home: “A decade ago that would have been inconceivable,” he said.

This is made possible by breakthroughs in sensors, smartphones, smart devices and connectivity. Advances in artificial intelligence were critical to understanding all of the data generated.

Over 100 million Americans have to deal with their chronic conditions, and that’s a big reason why healthcare costs are so high.

“Telehealth can be one of the best ways to check this out more often and consistently than asking a member to make an in-person appointment,” said Bestsennyy. “Incidentally, this is also many times more cost-effective.”

Attitudes towards telemedicine have improved a lot since the pandemic. According to McKinsey consumer surveys, around 40% of consumers said they will use telemedicine in the future, up from 11% before the arrival of COVID-19.

The company’s research also showed that 40 to 60% of respondents are interested in a wider range of virtual health solutions, including lower-cost virtual-first health plans.

McKinsey noted that more than half of doctors are positive about telemedicine. In April, 84% of doctors offered virtual visits, and most said they would rather continue to offer them.

But payments are a problem. According to McKinsey, 54% of doctors said they didn’t offer virtual visits with a 15% discount on face-to-face care.

“We decided to include that [detail] in the report to underline the importance of incentives for the various stakeholders, including vendors, ”said Bestsennyy.

How can one counter such resistance? Use more value-based health plans that pay providers a fixed monthly fee instead of a fee for each service, he said. In value-based models, the financial incentives are to keep patients healthy rather than providing more services.

“You are paying for the best result for the patient,” said Bestsennyy.

It starts with making sure they can reach the right provider whenever they want, from anywhere. In many cases, they may not have the vehicle or the time or the patience to go to a doctor’s office, Recuro’s Halsey said. This is where telemedicine comes in.

“Access is key whether you are on farmland or on a densely populated subway,” said Halsey. “Telemedicine is all about improving access – and finding the simple button.”

Genview Diagnosis Medical Assistants Crystal Leyva (L) and Keitia Perez conduct COVID-19 sampling tests on laboratory technicians at the Foxconn Assembly on August 13, 2021 in Houston, Texas.The average cost of a COVID-19 hospital stay is about $ 20,000, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, but Delta Air Lines said it pays an average of about $ 50,000 - and the unvaccinated made up all of the most recent cases.  Here appears Dr.  Catherine Chen on a camera monitor while reading oxygen levels on a COVID-19 patient at Parkland Memorial Hospital.Visits to the emergency room drive up health care costs, especially if travel could be avoided.  Two major provider networks, the Baylor Scott & White Quality Alliance and the Catalyst Health Network, are joining forces to offer new coverage that focuses on primary care - and better value for money.

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