By Geoffrey W. Rutledge MD, PhD, CMO of HealthTap, Inc
The recent arrival of consumer-centric virtual healthcare applications gives healthcare providers new options for improving outcomes, reducing costs, and at the same time, delivering a more delightful healthcare experience to patients. This combination of benefits, when delivered at scale, will help achieve the “Triple Aim” goals for improving health care, as described by the Institute for Healthcare improvement.
The rate of increase of US spending on health fluctuates, but the upward trend is relentless. Recent projections by CMS are that by 2022, we’ll spend 19.9% of our Gross Domestic Product on health care, and yet we are not on a course to achieve measurable improvements in outcomes or better patient experiences.
First-generation virtual healthcare mobile applications
New technology for virtual healthcare now promises to bend this trajectory. Digital interactive health applications in the market today already enable virtual healthcare visits that dramatically reduce overhead and resources requirements, and greatly improve comfort and convenience for patients. For the large fraction of doctor visits that do not require an in-person physical exam—estimates of this fraction vary from 30% to over 50% of non emergent ambulatory care visits—virtual visits offer convenience, flexibility, and lower costs. The consistent use of virtual healthcare to achieve better follow-up care is also likely to improve outcomes through increased compliance with treatment recommendations — stay tuned for the studies that demonstrate this benefit.
Until recently, hospitals and individual providers were limited to dedicated and expensive point-to-point telemedicine solutions that have not so far achieved widespread adoption or use.
Now, broadband Internet access and affordable video-enabled smartphones and tablet computers have created new opportunities for virtual healthcare services that are less costly, more efficient, and much more convenient for patients and providers. Greatly improved video streaming technologies enable high-definition video in the latest and best services, and security standards and encryption technologies achieve full compliance with HIPAA and other regulatory requirements for the security, confidentiality, and appropriate management of healthcare information.
We have seen a proliferation of first-generation mobile-enabled virtual healthcare services that provide video phone calls for health-related conversations between doctors and patients, with limited or no integrated support for delivering better care, increasing adherence, or improving outcomes.
Next-generation mobile healthcare is a leap forward
The next generation of integrated virtual healthcare applications has arrived, and for the first time, we see patient support that begins with comprehensive trusted doctor-curated health information, delivers true high definition video “Virtual Consults” with the doctor (including chat, file and photo sharing, clinical documentation and electronic prescriptions), and extends to automated support for followup.
One of the most promising aspects of the latest mobile health solutions is the automated support for followup that improves adherence with doctor-recommended treatments. The latest solutions enable reminders and notifications of each doctor recommendation, with timing and duration for each action specified by the doctor, and using the channel or device preferred by the patient (for example, patients may select to receive reminders via SMS, email, or in-app notification).
The latest applications leverage mobile technology to re-invent the tradition of the house call, enable easier access to care, and ensure better after care followup. Doctors in any practice setting can use these services to create a virtual office that expands their availability for scheduled visits. Doctors also can use these services when on call, turning unpaid telephone conversations into higher level of service paid virtual visits.
Immediate benefits for hospitals
Hospitals can now take advantage of mobile healthcare solutions to prevent readmissions. More frequent and more timely follow-up care after discharge is a highly effective way to reduce readmissions, and will also enable earlier discharges. Mobile health technology removes the barrier when a patient is unable or unwilling to travel to the office or clinic.
New and innovative virtual healthcare applications are evolving rapidly, and that’s good news for hospitals.
Dr. Rutledge is Chief Medical Officer and Cofounder of HealthTap+, the industry-leading mobile health technology company. He manages HealthTap’s network of over 63,000 US-licensed physicians who help tens of millions of people each month through HealthTap.com. His background includes 30 years of academic and community practice of Emergency and Internal Medicine, faculty appointments at Harvard and Stanford Medical Schools, and NSF and NIH-supported research in medical computing. He has held leadership positions in a large public HIT consulting company and three previous successful venture-backed health-technology companies. He earned his MD from McGill University, completed residency at UCSD and achieved board certification in both Internal and Emergency Medicine, and PhD in Medical Information Sciences from Stanford.