By now every clinic, health center, hospital or behavioral health agency has at a minimum dipped their toe into telehealth and plenty of clinical services (most prominently behavioral health) are using telehealth fairly frequently.

But is Telehealth something your clinic or hospital should just “keep around” or should you push for an increase in telehealth adoption?

Just by skimming the recent news from the past couple of weeks here are three reasons why you should put resources towards accelerating telehealth adoption:

  1. Improve health outcomes through increased patient activation.
  2. Stay competitive in a market with dissolved geographic boundaries.
  3. Prepare for the accelerated digital health adoption imperative
Improving Health Outcomes

The first reason why your organization should invest in accelerating the adoption of telehealth is the main reason most of us are in healthcare: to improve the wellbeing of our patients.

The modern healthcare consumer has a multitude of options to access information about care and to receive care. In a time of multiple chronic conditions exacerbated by lifestyle choices, healthcare needs to find ways to activate patients – engage them in their care to create change in behavior and adherence to jointly developed care plans.

While telehealth is not a panacea, it can address the many challenges of those patients who need access to care and continuity of care the most: time, transportation, money — just to name a few.

Here’s just one of many examples that are now being published about the impact of the pandemic-induced expansion of telehealth: “Pandemic-era telehealth expansion reduced opioid overdoses, study shows”.

This article on Fierce Healthcare describes the study that concludes that “access to telehealth was associated with better treatment retention” (i.e., continuity of care) and “lower risk of medically treated overdose”. While this only applies to one unique condition and treatment, we’ll keep our eye out for future studies that can show similar benefits.

Therefore, if you are looking for additional tools in your chronic care, population health, or value-based programs, explore how telehealth (video visits and remote physiological monitoring) can help you achieve your goals.

Staying Competitive

I’ve said it many times before (11/2020, 10/2021, 07/2022): The non-traditional competition (think Amazon Care (now Amazon’s One Medical) or Walmart’s Efforts) and the traditional competition (i.e., your regional health system, academic medical center, or flagship clinics such as the Cleveland Clinic or the Mayo Clinic) are ramping up their efforts to integrate telehealth and digital health solutions into their service offerings.

Here’s just one recent example of many: “98point6 raises $20M, partners with MultiCare’s Indigo Health to expand access to care”. 98point6 is a digital primary care provider that has raised close to $270M in funding since its founding in 2015.

MultiCare Health System is a Tacoma, WA based hospital system and Indigo Health is their Urgent Care service. By integrating the 98point6 platform into their service offerings, patients will have quicker, more convenient access to care.

As the President of MultiCare’s retail health is quoted in the article: “[This will] will help us scale our digital capabilities to meet community demand and bring a new level of meaningful engagement to our customers. The health care landscape is changing quickly, with big players in the technology and healthcare sectors making significant investments in this direction. We know customers are eager to see the healthcare industry evolve and enhance digital capabilities for better care.”

Preparing for the Accelerated Digital Health Adoption Imperative

As I’m browsing the news I’m noticing how many established health systems (such as MultiCare above) are engaging in partnerships with digital health vendors or are embracing digital health in a radically new way.

We’ve long known for decades that we’ve been living in the “information age” and that “data is the new currency” of wealth. But what is unprecedented and new in the last 15 years is the commoditization of the smartphone (Happy 15 1/2 birthday, iPhone!), basically putting a hyperconnected supercomputer into the hands of the modern (healthcare) consumer.

This evolution, along with other improvement in mobile technology, has led to a revolution in digital health solutions – over $85 Billion have been invested by venture capitalists into digital health startups, leading to a plethora of innovative and oftentimes even proven solutions that can improve diagnosis, treatment, care, and even prevention.

Of course it’s easy to invest into digital health for an organization such as the Cleveland Clinic (with their “Center for Digital Health and Telemedicine”) or my “alma mater” Mayo Clinic (with their Digital Health Frontier blog).

If you are running a health center, a behavioral health agency, or even smaller regional health system, investing at that level in digital health tools is not feasible (and not even advisable).

Speaking about frontiers — Telehealth (in all its shapes and sizes) is a very robust, straightforward, proven solution with very few digital bells and whistles. It is thus the perfect “first” digital health solution to “earn your wings” of adopting digital health innovation in your organization.

Because in the end the innovation adoption process is the same – whether you are doing it for a telehealth service or for a digital therapeutics intervention.

  1. Identify a need.
  2. Design the desired user experiences.
  3. Develop the desired workflows.
  4. Find the right digital health solution.
  5. Optimize and operationalize the integration.
  6. Validate your assumptions in a proof-of-concept.
  7. Prepare for and manage the necessary organizational change.
  8. Deploy the solution across the organization.

Most healthcare organizations, however, have very, very little experience in the design and launch of “new stuff”. That’s why the quick solutions we needed for the Covid-19 health crisis were, while effective in most cases, very haphazard and definitely not long-term sustainable.

And therein lies the opportunity: you can gain experience in “digital health innovation adoption” by cutting your teeth on a proven, straightforward solution such as video visits or remote physiological monitoring.

If not now, then when — if not you, then who?

Yes, on top of everything else that is going on — has been going on — in the world of healthcare, it seems there is never enough time to work on things like this. But telehealth is not going away and the availability of digital health solutions is only going to accelerate.

The question is: will your organization, will your clinicians be the ones to proactively embrace digital health now — or will others that can reach your patients do so better and faster than you?

Let me know if you’d like to discuss this question 1:1. I’m always up for a quick chat via Zoom.

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Christian Milaster and his team optimize Telehealth Services for health systems and physician practices. Christian is the Founder and President of Ingenium Digital Health Advisors where he and his expert consortium partner with healthcare leaders to enable the delivery of extraordinary care.

Contact Christian by phone or text at 657-464-3648, via email, or video chat.