Friday, March 4, 2011

Americans Demand Online Healthcare

Although telehealth and healthcare IT are by no means novel concepts, at first glance they can appear culturally shifting and disruptive technologies for many users. If you consider telehealth as the modern facilitation of age old practices like the house call or midnight phone call, then it becomes easier to accept as a viable means of connecting doctors and patients. Traditionally, if your child were to awake screaming during the night and you had the luxury of a close family physician; you would call and receive immediate advice resulting in either a home remedy or a trip to the emergency room.  However, using the latest technology, well defined operational work flows and an expert team of telemedicine trained physicians, today’s telehealth consult can be significantly more comprehensive and include video, high definition imagery, electronic health records management, and a historical account of the patient’s health. Whether or not we realize it or not, these advances in healthcare have already become a cornerstone of our overall health and wellness system. The question is how quickly some segments of the population will adopt these advances culturally.  

As a champion of telehealth I’m excited to see supporting data that the US population is moving in the right direction when it comes to adopting innovative healthcare technology. A recent, “Health Care Check-up Survey,” conducted by Intuit Health and published in Healthcare Finance News highlighted the growing expectation for their doctor to be available online with a focus on the development of patient portals and communication technology. According to the survey data a surprising 73% of respondents said they, “would use an online communication application to pay medical bills, communicate with their physician or physician’s office, make appointments and view lab results.” Even more surprising is that, “more than 40% say they would consider switching physicians in order to obtain such access.”
Payers’ are pushing telehealth as evidenced by partnership announcements over the last twenty-four months by Wellpoint, Aetna, and UnitedHealth with telehealth providers to reduce costs and increase service. Nevertheless, it will take the patients’ embrace for the telehealth technology shift to really take hold. "Patient anxiety is rising," said Steve Malik, president and general manager of Intuit Health. "They want some measure of control, convenience and better communication with their doctor. Doctors who offer secure online solutions can meet this patient demand while increasing office efficiency and enhancing the doctor-patient relationship."

-Ghen Sugimoto
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