Telehealth: The Future of Medicine

09 Jan 2018

Telehealth is another fascinating product of human ingenuity; the United States Federal Government defines telehealth as:

“The use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration.”

The telehealth industry is expeditiously evolving; according to Mordor Intelligence, a Market Research Agency, the number of telehealth consultations in 2018 are expected to reach 7 million. This is a remarkable achievement for the health industry because in 2013 there were only 350,000 consultations. They forecast that the valuation of the global marketplace for telehealth to approach $34 billion by 2020.

Three Reasons You Should Consider Joining the Telehealth Movement:

1.) You have the duty to provide your patients with the highest degree of care. If you were to actively utilize telehealth it would improve the overall quality of care a patient receives due to convenient accessibility to specialists. It also enables you the ability to enter markets beyond the locational boundaries of your business. You could target areas that are underserviced, and meet the demand of that particular market.

2.) It is likely that you are currently providing services for free that could be monetized through telehealth. As a physician, a considerable portion of your day is dedicated to contacting your patients, whether it be for a follow-up or a consultation. Digital communication is the heart of telehealth, so why not monetize something you already do on a daily basis?

3.) It creates convenience for both you and your patient, after all, time is money. Time is the most precious asset that we have, and the more of it we have, the more autonomy we have. Telehealth will save you from having an in-person meeting with a patient when they have an easily identifiable ailment. The time that you are saving could be reallocated to a more profitable component of your business.

Entering the Telehealth Industry:

Equipment:

If you own a smartphone and high-speed internet; you already own all the equipment you need to grow your business by providing telehealth services. Telecommunications with your patients can be synchronous (real-time) or asynchronous (not real-time). This provides an incredible amount of flexibility to both the provider and the patient. A physician could send an asynchronous follow-up video so that the patient may view it at his or her convenience, thus saving both parties the frustration of coordinating an in-person meeting.

Naturally, considering the confidential nature of the information being communicated, it is required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, (HIPAA) that all transmissions be encrypted.

Demand:

In order to determine if telehealth is right for you, you need to assess the marketplace’s propensity to consume telehealth services, as well as, specialized services. Appraise the abundance, or lack thereof, of specialists or expensive machinery in a targeted community, for example, a CT scanner. Perhaps there is a scarcity of CT scanners in the community, and your practice has one, and it is underutilized. Your practice could engage in teleradiology services to satisfy the needs of the community. By assessing the economic climate of your community, or an out of state one, you are likely to identify an area where demand is not being met.

Join a Telehealth Provider:

To expedite your practice’s capacity to perform telehealth services it may be wise to consider joining a telehealth organization. Two of the largest telehealth organizations are Teledoc and American Well; both provide HIPAA-compliant software for secure voice and video transmissions. The software enables the provider to document patient visits, communicate with other physicians, and engage in patient services such as: submitting electronic claims and holding consultations.

Concerns for Telehealth:

Licensure:

Are you concerned about your ability to provide medical services in other states? Currently the IMLC, Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, provides legislation that allows qualifying physicians to provide health care services in 18 states. The IMLC estimates that approximately 80% of applicants qualify to provide interstate care. There is also legislation that has been introduced in other states to expand IMLC to facilitate a higher quality of care through telehealth. An IMLC license can be obtained by completing an application that costs $700 plus the cost of the licenses sought by each state. The process is relatively easy:

1.) Pay your application fee for the IMLC

2.) Complete supplemental materials

3.) Your State of Principal Licensure (“SPL”) will verify your qualifications

4.) After receiving a letter of qualification from your SPL, you are accepted into IMLC

5.) Pay for your desired state licenses, and they should arrive in a few weeks

Malpractice Complexity:

The already complex malpractice liability law becomes increasingly convoluted as it crosses state borders. It is still mostly unclear how legal proceedings would be approached in the presence of malpractice/ negligence. Liability laws vary by state, and it still being deliberated if malpractice cases will be assessed by the patient’s state’s laws or the physicians. The good news is that you can acquire insurance for telehealth cases.

Looking Forward:

In the ever turning world, it seems that we are perpetually in debt to time. No one has time to be sick which leads people to neglect their health.

Telehealth provides a solution to the encumbrances of time. It affords both patients the opportunity to receive a superior quality of care and physicians the ability to reallocate their time to more profitable components of their business.

If physicians were to seize the opportunities of this new juncture in the Health Care Industry, and capitalize on the scarcity of services in different states and communities; it can prove to be quite lucrative. As we cultivate superior care for patients, it will organically improve the overall quality of the American Health Care System, and positively enhance the lives of millions of people.


This article was also featured in Best Practices Vol. 14