When we look to the future of healthcare, it is important to understand that it will look significantly different than it does today. The solutions of tomorrow will be ones that weren’t available yesterday. All you need to do is look at the healthcare environment today compared to where it was 5 short years ago. Consider that walk-in healthcare centers/clinics have, for many people, replaced their primary care physician and new technologies, such as the Apple Watch, and access to information through such portals as WebMD have put vital health information in the hands of consumers. But it won’t stop there. New technologies that improve care and access, while providing flexibility for consumers to receive treatment on their terms are going to continue to expand in the foreseeable future. In addition, increased smart technology that can monitor a patient and communicate directly with their medical team when their vitals fall outside of proscribed ranges will also be more prevalent, making investments in these types of technology a critical component of any health system’s financial strategy.
This opens the door for greater use of telehealth. Telehealth, although more than 15 years old, has gained a tremendous level of support due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Consumers are embracing it across many different modalities, increasing the value of providing such services. Providers need to find ways to incorporate telehealth into their continuum of care as a way of improving care delivery, enhancing patient access and convenience, improving chronic care coordination and reducing the cost of care, which is critical in a managed care funded system.
Healthcare, like many other businesses, is moving to a consumer-directed model. Consumers have more information and options available to them. In addition, there are many websites, such as Healthgrades, WebMD, ratemds.com, and Vitals.com, that allow patients to rate their physicians. In addition, there are so many more options available to consumers to receive healthcare services, that consumers now drive the healthcare bus. Finally, many employers are moving to high deductible plans and HSAs, which means the potential for additional out of pocket expenditures, at least upfront, for their workforce. That means that providers need to continue to find ways to enhance the consumer experience and resolve consumer issues both effectively and economically. This can be accomplished through telehealth.
Most providers are beginning to initiate telehealth into their healthcare continuum, by piloting it in certain strategic areas, or areas where telehealth has already gained a certain level of traction. The goal is to move beyond this phase and fully integrate telehealth into a provider’s clinical care delivery, both from an acute and chronic care perspective. This will expand care options for consumers, provide enhanced and more convenient access, in a more cost-effective manner (e.g. post-surgery follow-up meetings). This will enhance brand image and consumer loyalty while helping to resolve clinical labor shortages and reduce overhead costs.
Providers need to look at their practices to understand where they can shift services from in-person to virtual. Some areas where this is already feasible include:
- Urgent care
- Primary care
- School health
- Home monitoring/chronic care (e.g. asthma or diabetes)
- Behavioral health
- Counseling services
- Pre and post-surgical visits/evaluations
Telehealth also provides an excellent platform for the initial visit a patient has with a provider, with pre-work and administrative onboarding easily done virtually. Also, with people living longer, it will not always be easy for the elderly and those that are chronically ill to access brick-and-mortar facilities. Reaching this population where they live, work, and play, will be essential in managing their health and improving their quality of life; and with new technology that can monitor them, it can be done on a proactive basis.
As providers move to a true value-based, consumer-directed healthcare model, telehealth can play a significant role in the transformation. Providers are starting to experiment with telehealth and how they can incorporate it into their delivery model. As providers find more significant ways to utilize telehealth in conjunction with other technological advancements, they will build a sustainable competitive advantage for the future.
Jacob Lutz, CPA, MBA
Jacob joined Cerini & Associates in January of 2013 and has been actively providing tax, compliance, and business advisory services to a wide variety of both for-profit and non-profit clients.