As the end of the Covid-19 health crisis tunnel is in sight, more and more healthcare organizations are evaluating their current and future use of telehealth.

Which is understandable, given that prior to Covid, telehealth utilization across the whole health system was extremely low. Thus something you got pushed into, even dragged into is not as enjoyable, especially if your organization’s telehealth implementation resulted in frustration among providers, staff, and patients.

As others have pointed out though, the toothpaste analogy applies here: The Telehealth paste is out of the tube and it will not go back in. Telehealth is here to stay, whether your doctors provide it or not.

Even though your organization won’t, others will.

The Patient is Increasingly Right

Over the past decade, spurred by the rising healthcare cost and the resultant trend to burden the patients with more financial responsibility, a gradual shift occurred that suddenly had patients have more “skin in the game”. Unimaginable high deductibles of $10,000 or more and exorbitant premiums have motivated many patients (or: modern healthcare consumers, as I’d like to call them), to take their (financial) healthcare fate into their own hands.

Thus patients are now increasingly “voting” with their feet, clicks and wallets by seeking care from those providers that offer convenient access for a visit and after the visit; from those that are staying on top of the digital health innovation avalanche offering innovative care and treatment; and from those that offer price transparency, just to name a few of the factors.

No Telehealth? You’re Fired

The story that inspired this week’s headline came from an illustrative tale told to me by one of my clients, let’s call her Sue, from her personal healthcare experience. Diagnosed with a disease 40 years ago she finally found relief in a medication 20 years ago that enabled her to sleep through the night again.

So it was understandable that when Sue unexpectedly ran out of the medication, that she wanted — no, she needed a refill quickly. But when she called her longtime primary care provider, the good doctor told her that she was no longer doing telehealth and that Sue would have to come in for an in-person appointment. Mind you, for a routine refill of a medication she had for 20 years. Oh and the next available appointment was 5 days out.

So Sue clicked her way to her health insurance’s home page, found the offering for telehealth through the insurance company’s preferred telehealth provider and had a prescription for her refill within 20 minutes. With no copay, to boot!

Interestingly the PCP incorrectly stated that she was no longer reimbursed for telehealth which, as Sue’s experience with her own insurance demonstrates, is obviously not true. Mind you, Sue’s doctor did not require an in-person visit because it was better medicine, but because she simply did not want to do it anymore.

But the story does not end there. Ultimately this experience was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back: There had been a number of things that Sue had been unhappy with regarding her PCP and now she more or less, quietly, fired her PCP and is switching to a new provider.

One that does offer telehealth.

The Tip of the Iceberg

This is not the first time I have heard such an anecdote. There are other friends, family and clients that have reported or personally lived through similar experiences, taking their healthcare business elsewhere. One telehealth consultant friend of mine also recently switched his PCP of 10, 15 years because he refused to go with the telehealth times.

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Because once you’ve experienced the convenience and ease of telehealth for a minor condition (or a routine visit such as for a medication refill), it’s hard to imagine going back to the hassle of driving to the clinic, finding a parking space, hanging out in the waiting room with other sick strangers before finally meeting your physician. Our time as patients is far too valuable.

As I’ve written about before (“The Telehealth Landscape is About to Change”), there are numerous forces at play that are disrupting our comfortable healthcare world as we know it and that I will write about them in more details in the weeks to come.

One such force is large companies’ strong desire to control healthcare costs. And, often fueled by telehealth technology, their approach is to take matters into their own hands and bypass the traditional healthcare system altogether for routine care or minor ailments. Amazon.care and WalmartHealth are just two big examples.

Another force is larger health systems reinventing themselves (or at least they’re trying). The Cleveland Clinic launched “The Clinic” in partnership with one of the largest telehealth vendors, AmWell. The Mayo Clinic hired a renowned physician to lead their “Mayo Clinic Platform” initiative. Just last week, Mayo Clinic and Kaiser announced putting $100M into their own remote monitoring platform, expanding chronic care and critical care into the patient’s home.

A third force I’d like to reference is the increasing push for price transparency. This is in itself a very hot topic that I will explore further in upcoming Telehealth Tuesday columns. With the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) release of the final rules on price transparency earlier this year, a direction has been set and those organizations who can provide clear price transparency (such as the trailblazing Surgery Center of Oklahoma) will be rewarded by the Modern Healthcare Consumer.

Embrace Telehealth – Or Face the Consequences

I completely understand how hard it is to allow new ways of healthcare delivery to take hold. After all, for the past 12 years I’ve have made a business out of helping teams and organizations to overcome the resistance to change of delivering care at a distance. But sticking one’s head in the sand will not make telehealth go away. Patients want it and need it. Providers, when offered a proper telehealth solution with proper training and support, love wielding telehealth as a clinical tool to serve their patients best.

But to outright dismiss and refuse to offer telehealth is financially foolish. One large consultancy is predicting that in under 20 years, “by 2040, health care as we know it will no longer exist”. That’s a bold and sobering prediction. I guess in 2040 we won’t (have to) use those self-driving cars (or self-flying drones) to get to our next doctor’s appointment after all.

Don’t let your patients fire you just because you are not offering telehealth. I have plenty of free materials to help any physician or healthcare leader to at least get started. Contact me to set up a brief video chat to let you know where you can find these resources.

But then again, if you’re not interested in telehealth, you may not be reading my column…so please forward this article to those who need to read it. It’s a 4 minute read. Thank you!

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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.