While it might be hard to believe, the American Telemedicine Association was first established in 1993—long before virtual healthcare was a cornerstone of industry conversations. In fact, the concept of telehealth has been around for decades, with some instances going as far back as the 1920s where medical advice was sent by Morse code and voice radio to sailors in need. During the next few decades, the world took notice with Japan using CATV systems for image transmissions in the 1970s. And in 1972, medical information was sent across 4 Mhz TV channels and several telephone lines between Aomori Teishin Hospital and Tokyo Teishin Hospital.
Despite the long-standing awareness and early use cases of telemedicine, widespread adoption is still lacking. New research from Xerox found that only 16% of U.S. adults have used virtual health for non-urgent advice, exams, or counseling…even though 61% are willing to do so.
What patients want
The same research discovered 77% of U.S. adults are excited about the possibility of receiving healthcare virtually for a non-urgent matter. Respondents are most excited for:
- The convenience offered by virtual healthcare (59%)
- Potential cost savings (40%)
- Ability to see or communicate with a healthcare professional for minor ailments (35%)
- Ability to easily receive prescription refills (35%)
- Ability to see or communicate with a healthcare professional more frequently (26%)
The responses indicate to me that people want healthcare to be less of a hassle and more affordable. This makes sense as patients continue to take on their new role as healthcare consumers. In order to participate actively in their own care, patients will form strong opinions about what they want and need from their healthcare providers.
The industry roadblock
We, as healthcare professionals, can safely pronounce virtual health to be in high consumer demand, but why are providers still struggling to get off the ground? The challenge is with interoperability; meshing the disparate systems already used today into one common platform and then making the collected data during a virtual session both available and useful. It has been difficult to integrate patient and claims data from telehealth visits with traditional physician and financial systems, let alone deliver the virtual care itself on a widespread level. Consumers aren’t blind to these challenges, as plenty of concerns were uncovered in our survey. Xerox survey results show the top five patient concerns are:
- My insurance won’t cover it (43%)
- My data and information won’t be secure (37%)
- I won’t have the same personal relationship with my provider (35%)
- Connection issues (such as internet/Wi-Fi/phone) (34%)
- I won’t have access to my regular physicians (30%)
The solutions—how to address patient concerns
Real-world, collaborative solutions like Xerox’s recently announced Virtual Health Solutions are necessary to address these concerns and make widespread telemedicine adoption a reality. For instance, virtual healthcare vendors should offer consulting services that are designed to work with hospitals and physicians so they better understand the true scope of their current systems, how they can be improved, and how their internal staff can better translate that to the patient. When everyone involved with telemedicine works together, they can successfully evaluate the needs of local markets and then cater the virtual solutions around that population.
Improved interface design and development services for every healthcare system—even the ones that have never been connected before—are also needed. These solutions are directed at overcoming the interoperability challenges associated with telehealth so that healthcare providers can fully leverage electronic health records and identify a patient’s medical, prescription, and coverage history instantly from anywhere. By creating a unified interface design, the complexities of determining patient eligibility, medical billing, and documentation can be streamlined.
Telehealth infrastructure—or the framework for how telehealth will actually be delivered—is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. Universal solutions that work both with hospitals and private physicians can help front and back office services and allow patients to connect with their physicians for consultations, check-ups, and general health questions in a virtual setting. This presents a time-saving opportunity that can empower patients to take control of their personal health instead of avoiding it due to waiting rooms, paperwork, and travel time.
Other customer care needs can be improved as well, including insurance verification, appointment scheduling, pre-authorization, payment processing, claims preparation, submission tracking, and reconciliation. Advancements in these areas can make the virtual experience as familiar as a patient would experience from an in-person visit.
The future of virtual health
In order for virtual health to be a viable solution, healthcare organizations need to adjust to patients’ preferred delivery methods. From text messages on their smartphones and push notifications on their tablets to web portals and video conferencing, it’s time for providers to rally around these technologies to help improve overall well-being.
Traditional caregiver/patient relationships are no longer the norm as individuals want to feel empowered to take stock in their personal health and collaborate with their doctors to determine the best course of action for their medical needs. This is why wearable technology is forecasted to be a nearly $6 billion industry in the next two years. In order for the wearable industry to be truly valuable, we need data collected by devices to be aggregated and incorporated into electronic health records, where physicians can leverage the data to improve health outcomes and the patient experience. Until we have a contiguous platform for mobile health applications, they will be isolated islands and have little actual impact.
Individuals now have a basic expectation of what’s available to them via technology. To satisfy this and leverage it for better healthcare, physicians, and virtual healthcare solution, providers must band together to make interoperability a priority focus. With the adoption of intuitive solutions, we can ensure consistent patient experiences across multiple channels, integrate personal health data, automate when necessary, and offer a specialized experience for patients. Once this is achieved, we can begin experiencing firsthand the next chapter of virtual health.