Telehealth is coming on strong, well poised for a major growth spurt in the coming years. In fact, it seems to be on track to becoming the new normal for many areas of healthcare. Here are nine big reasons that demonstrate how quickly telehealth is changing patient attitudes—and why you should be taking a new look at telehealth for your eyecare practice.
1. The consumerization of healthcare is driving historic growth. With more and more consumers seeking greater access and lower healthcare costs, a major shift is occurring in consumer acceptance of telehealth. JAMA reports that telehealth visits among the commercially insured increased by 261 percent between 2015 and 2017. And the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reported last year that telehealth has grown by more than 65% between 2014 and 2016.
2. More than acceptance, patients are exhibiting excitement about telehealth. In fact, according to J.D. Power, which will be publishing its first-ever Telehealth Satisfaction Study this November, “the use of telehealth as a lower-cost form of medical consultation has skyrocketed in popularity.” And it’s not just millennials who are enthusiastic about telehealth. According to recent study from American Well, 52% of Americans aged 65 years and over are willing to use telehealth—and 67% said they were open to using video visits to manage their chronic conditions.
3. AI-powered telehealth is enabling significant new benefits for patients and providers. Telehealth, once just a video connection for routine health care consultations, is now equipped to provide a superior standard of care through the use of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). As images are collected through telehealth exams, they’re immediately enhanced with AI to identify early signs of disease. New solutions available today, for example, use machine-learning algorithms to scan the retinas to gather information about patients to predict a patient’s risk for cardiovascular disease and to provide quicker diagnoses of conditions like diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.
4. States are gradually breaking down barriers to telehealth. More states than ever have established parity laws for private insurance coverage of telemedicine. As of 2018, 34 states and Washington, D.C., had enacted parity laws—up from 12 states in 2010—and five more states were reviewing proposed legislation.
5. Medicare is beginning to provide a level of reimbursement for telehealth services beyond “rural underserved” areas. Historically, third-party reimbursement has been a major speed bump for adoption of telehealth and access to telehealth for seniors has been limited. That’s about to change. Beginning in plan year 2020, CMS will reimburse for telehealth services as part of Medicare Advantage plans. That means that seniors will have access to virtual providers as part of their basic benefit packages, so they can receive care from home or another convenient location, whether or not they live in rural areas.
6. Telehealth is helping to reduce hospital readmissions and lower costs. Readmissions are the most costly patient encounter for hospitals. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates annual costs of patient readmissions at more than $41 billion. Research in many areas is showing that telehealth, by detecting complications earlier and providing opportunities for remote monitoring and education, telehealth can significantly reduce the rateof hospital readmissions, by 83%, while lowering overall costs by more than 30%.
7. Telehealth is improving outcomes in many healthcare settings and for many applications. Telehealth is providing new avenues of access to healthcare services in many areas. By taking advantage of its ability to provide a convenient way to monitor patients, providers are helping prevent immediate issues from spiraling into more serious conditions. New platforms are helping home health services provide wound care and prevent hospital readmissions. Many states are developing platforms to help expectant parentsaccess resources. The VA is launchinga new program designed to provide veterans with access to care for type 2 diabetes. These are just a few examples of the ways that telehealth is changing the game across the healthcare spectrum.
8. Amazon and Best Buy are getting in the game. Perhaps the biggest sign of a bright future for telehealth is the fact that major U.S. companies like Best Buyand Amazonare teaming up with health systems and other partners to bring telehealth platforms directly to consumers. Stay tuned.
9. New technology will continue to improve the standard of care provided by telehealth. It’s important to note that not all telehealth solutions are the same. In the eyecare space alone, there are different offerings—from simple refractions to comprehensive eye exams—that meet or exceed the standard of care provided by in-person exams. Leveraging new and emerging technologies is the key to providing a more robust offering. The use of AI, widefield fundus cameras, digital EMR records, and wave front technology are some of the ways that new technology has enhanced the accuracy and thoroughness of comprehensive eye exams performed via telehealth. These and new technologies to come will continue to improve the standard of care provided by telehealth.