Posted in Perspective

The economic inevitability of telemedicine

Chris Nerney
Chris Nerney, Contributing Writer |
The economic inevitability of telemedicine

An increasing number of healthcare providers are offering (or plan to offer) telemedicine services to patients, both to fill a need – helping patients who live in rural areas or have transportation challenges – and because telehealth-enabling technologies are become more available, even for small and mid-sized private practices.

A recent survey by Black Book Research shows that 87 percent of practices with plans to modernize their electronic health records (EHR) systems in the next three years want to add telehealth/virtual visit support.

But the survey hints at another key driver behind the demand among providers for telemedicine functionality: consumer expectations. The vast majority (91 percent) of healthcare consumers under age 50 gravitate toward practices offering advanced digital services such as patient portals and telemedicine.

"The technology expectations of upcoming generations will likely then contribute to the gradual demise of independent, solo physician practices if they do not invest and provide what healthcare consumers clearly want," said Doug Brown, managing partner of Black Book. 

And that’s because consumers in recent years have been forced to cover a much greater share of their healthcare costs as premiums and deductibles have risen, and as more people have lost insurance altogether.

“Over the past decade, patients began paying far more of the doctor bill out of their own pocket, and suddenly they became more of a consumer,” writes Forbes contributor Leah Binder. “The best example of the emerging new influence of the healthcare patient as consumer is the phoenix-like rise of telemedicine … people want to be able to consult physicians—and nurses—via ubiquitous communication technology like teleconferencing and email.”

And as the Black Book Research survey indicates, consumers will vote with their pocketbooks. For providers, Binder says, the message is clear.

“Physicians nervous that telemedicine will threaten their income need to reinvent their practices,” she writes.

Most seem to be paying heed to that warning. A 2017 survey of healthcare organizations conducted by law firm Foley & Lardner showed that more than three-quarters (76 percent) of providers reported that they offer (or expect to offer) telehealth services.