Weekend Big Read: will telemedicine do to retail healthcare what Amazon did to retail?

Updated. Our past contributor and TelehealthWorks’ Bruce Judson (ATA 2017 coverage) has penned this weekend’s Big Read in the HuffPost. His hypothesis is that telemedicine specifically will disrupt location-based care, followed by other digitally based care–and that executives at health systems and payers are in denial. More and more states are recognizing both parity of treatment and (usually) payment. Telemedicine also appeals to three major needs: care at home or on the go, with a minimal wait; maldistribution of care, especially specialized care; and follow-up/post-acute care. His main points in the article:

  • Healthcare executives are being taken by surprise because present digital capabilities will not be future capabilities, and the shift to virtual will be a gradual process
  • Telemedicine will address doctor shortages and grow into coordinated care platforms embedding expertise (via connected diagnostics, analytics, machine learning, AI) and care teams
  • Telemedicine will eventually go up-market and directly compete with large providers in urban areas, displacing a significant amount of in-person care with virtual care
  • Telemedicine will start to incorporate continuous feedback loops to further optimize their services and move into virtual health coaching and chronic care management
  • Telemedicine platforms are also sub-specializing into stroke response, pediatrics, and neurology
  • Centers of expertise and expert platforms will become larger and fewer–centralizing into repositories of ‘the best’
  • Platforms will be successful if they are trusted through positive patient experiences. This is a consumer satisfaction model.

Mr. Judson draws an analogy of healthcare with internet services, an area where he has decades of expertise: “A general phenomenon associated with Internet services is that they break activities into their component parts, and then reconnect them in a digital chain.” Healthcare will undergo a similar deconstruction and reconstruction with a “new set of competitive dynamics.”

It’s certainly a provocative POV that at least gives a rationale for the sheer messiness and stop-n-start that this Editor has observed in Big Health since the early 2000s. A caution: the internet, communications, and retail do not endure the sheer volume of regulatory force imposed on healthcare, which tends to make the retail analogy inexact. Governments monitor and regulate health outcomes, not search results or video downloads (except when it comes to net neutrality). It’s hard to find an industry so regulated other than financial/banking and utilities. FierceHealthcare also found the premise intriguing, noting the VA’s ‘Anywhere’ programs [TTA 9 Aug] and citing two studies indicating 96 percent of large employers plan to make telemedicine, also with behavioral health services, available, and that 20 percent of employers are seeing over 8 percent employee utilization. (Under 10 percent utilization gave RAND the vapors earlier this year with both this Editor and Mr. Judson stinging RAND’s findings with separate analyses.)

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