One of the most highly attended panels at this year’s Partners HealthCare Connected Health Symposium, “Direct to Consumer – Debunking the Myths of Telehealth,” hoped to dispel and clarify common myths about an ever-growing but often misunderstood market.
Moderated by Susan Edgman-Levitan, Executive Director of the John D. Stoeckle Center for Primary Care Innovation at MGH, the conversation addressed factors holding back telehealth’s growth, stressed the importance of quality product and pinpointed exactly what could help tip the scale for widespread adoption.
Potential lies in widespread adoption, not just access
“There used to be a common misconception that [telehealth] is only for rural areas,” said Pat Basu, CMO at Doctor on Demand. “There is a tremendous opportunity to do more in telehealth, more in the chronic, longitudinal space, which is obviously where a lot of the American dollars reside. There is certainly more room for a broader based population.”
Roy Schoenberg, CEO of American Well, echoed the sentiment saying, “The term telehealth has been hijacked, and if we did a show of hands, most people think of telehealth as a quick way to get in front of a physician – telephone, video, etc. The notion that telehealth is a quick fix for a simple primary care issue has become the normal.”
Quality is key to continued growth and success
“Quality is like an onion. There are so many dimensions to it. It’s not only the quality of the interaction, but also the physicians, from an experience perspective,” Schoenberg said. “We have baked feedback into everyone one of our transactions. We live and breathe by transparency.”
Basu agreed saying,“Every game is a road game. You need to do it better and cleaner than in regular medicine.”
Many factors contribute to good telehealth partners
According to Harry Leider, CMO and Group VP at Walgreens, market forces of value based purchasing, a shortage of doctors and consumerization with high deductibles cause us to understand who does what best, cost effectively and conveniently.
For Schoenberg, speaking from a patient-centric perspective, if one factor makes a difference it’s company leadership. “I don’t think, unfortunately, if we really want to see telehealth deliver on its valuable and its promise, you really can’t choose your partners,” he said. “As a patient you really do have to work with a partner with everyone.”
“One of our ideal partners in dermatology is the patient themselves,” echoed Mark Seraly, CMO and Founder of Iagnosis/DermatologistsOnCall. “Being a different specialty, what we are learning is that people want choice and they want convenience.”
Schoenberg pointed out that often telehealth is more consumer friendly and provides a higher service level than traditional medicine as well as better documentation.
“Funnily enough, if you compare what we do the urgent care center and the emergency rooms, we capture better information and documentation which is then handed over the patient.”
Little consensus on what can tip the scale
Schoenberg thought the key to mass adoption lies in treating chronic care. “When telehealth enters that domain, it’s many, many orders of magnitude,” he said.
But Basu believed the issue is one of primary market awareness issue. “Most people haven’t even heard of telehealth yet…people don’t even know it exists. In five years people will know it’s an option without us having to advertise that it’s an option.”
For Schoenberg, ultimate success is when nobody even uses the term telehealth anymore.
“Our mission is to make telehealth and telemedicine disappear,” he said. “We want it just to be called medicine.”
Robert Schultz has an MBA in Information Systems from University of Massachusetts-Boston and a BS in International Business from Northeastern University, where he served as Business Manager for the university’s largest student publication, The Northeastern News. Schultz is an experienced healthcare technology startup enthusiast who was involved with the patient monitoring company Aware Engineering through the MassBio MassCONNECT program.
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